While on our most epic crossing trip, where Mermaid II sails from the notorious Raja Ampat though the Banda Sea and into Flores’s east coast port Maumere, we had some truly awesome encounters. From a small group of very shy scalloped hammerhead sharks, schooling sea snakes (no joke), to a riot of Indonesia’s best critters. While everyone has their favorite moment, the most notable for me was the free diving anemone fishermen and his gaggle of happy children.
It was in Alor’s stunning and highly unique dive site, ‘Clown Valley’ that we had the unique opportunity to meet these incredible people and watch them harvest something that I didn’t even know could be harvested. Clown Valley gets it’s name the overwhelming amount anemones that have set their gummy roots across the entire seabed, and where ever there are anemones there are clown fish to follow. It was while I was photographing this endless garden of anemones and their stripey residents when a man wearing nothing but a raged pair of athletic shorts and some wood frame goggles swam into my frame.
He descended to the bottom where I was, eight meters down and ever so delicately started to search under the anemone covered rocks with his bare hands. I watched in amazement and when he had found what he was looking for he then eagerly swam over to show me. In each hand he held a small anemone.
Curious to find out why he was pulling anemones out from under the rocks I followed him to the surface. As I emerged I was greeted by not only the anemone man but by a dozen super excited children in their small dugout canoes with the bottoms lined by a smattering of these little gooey reef dwelling plants. In speaking with the man in my very rudimentary Indonesian I learned that the anemones were for eating. What! I’ve heard of people eating jellyfish and birds nests but neveranemones. He told me he cooks them up with some vegetables and it’s very delicious! Hmmmm. I spent the next forty or so minutes with him and his laughing entourage watching him dive down for minutes at a time to emerge each time with a small handful of these odd ‘delicacies’. The whole time I was trying to document this man’s aquatic foraging I was incessantly bombarded by the children from
above like a scene from one of those ocean documentaries where all the sea birds dive bomb a school of bait fish. Only these kids weren’t after fish, just photos showcasing their favorite gang signs.
As the dive was coming to an end I shook hands with the man, Aris, and gave a big farewell to the children who now not only occupied their small wooden watercraft but lined the beaches. Though it was just another day in the life for Aris, like someone from Idaho digging potatoes, I felt lucky to have been introduced to such a unique new form of cultivation and cuisine.
Mermaid II Raja Ampat-Banda Sea-Alor-Maumere
Apr 18 to May 03, 2016