Post D: The People of The Coral Triangle

The Coral Triangle – An underwater amazon that encompasses an area half the size of the United States and harbours more marine species than anywhere else on the planet. For centuries, it has been home to a Bajau ethnic group, a Malay people sprawled across the mass of ocean between the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia (Matador Network 2014). Born and raised at sea, their entire lives are spent wandering beneath the waves. Their bodies have amazingly adapted to physically harvest the ocean floor; they are the underwater ballerinas; the Bajau Laut sea nomads of Indonesia.

1122The origins of the Bajau settlement are not entirely clear, however linguistic evidence has traced the ethnic group back to the 9th century, to what is now the southern Philippines (Matador Network 2014). Thought to have migrated south in considerable numbers, they are believed part of a regional trade prospered under the wealthy Malay sultanates from the 15th century onwards (Matador Network 2014), although the Bajau recount their origins through a different tale. Their legend tells the story of a Malaysian princess who was washed away in a flash flood. Her grief-stricken father ordered his subjects to depart the kingdom, only to return once they’d found his daughter. They’ve been wandering ever since (Matador Network 2014).



Incredibly, over the generations, the Bajau have adapted to their maritime environment, learning from an early age how to hold their breath for minutes at a time. They have even been commonly known to deliberately rupture their eardrums so that they can eventually dive without pain (Matador Network 2014). For the most part, they are sustained completely by the ocean. For centuries they lived on small, dilapidated boats, but in the recent decades controversial government groups have forced them to settle on land (James Morgan Film and Photography 2013). Reluctant to give up the ocean, many remain inseparable from the sea and have built their homes – fragile, wooden-stilted dwellings in the shallow bays on the waters edge (Matador Network 2014). To the Bajau, every reef, tide and current is thought of as a living entity; that the ocean is filled with spirits that govern their lives (Matador Network 2014).


It is hard to believe that this group of people who have such a sacred regard for the ocean, play a detrimental role in the common practice of destructive fishing techniques amongst the coastal populations of the Coral Triangle (James Morgan Film and Photography 2013). Using homemade fertiliser bombs and potassium cyanide, they have decimated reefs but also claimed many lives and injuries within their community (Lost in Internet 2014).

The destruction is predominantly driven by the live fish trade – an industry with a global worth estimated at one billion US dollars. A devastating 50% of all imports come from Indonesia (James Morgan Film and Photography 2013). Reef-bombing is not isolated to the individuals in the Bajau community, it is a regional phenomenon (Aljazeera 2012). With a significant depletion of marine life, the Bajau have to some extent been forced to resort to these illegal methods of fishing in order to sustain their biological lifestyle. Nonetheless, it is truly saddening, for what was once a rarefied, untainted species of man, who for centuries nurtured their beautifully complex respect for the ocean, has been infected with the toxic nature of the modernized man.

77James Morgan 2011, People of the Coral Triangle, motion film, Vimeo, viewed 1 May 2015, <>.

Matador Network 2014, Last of the Sea Nomads, Johnny Langenheim, viewed 1 May 2015, <;.

(James Morgan Film and Photography 2013), Bajau Laut: Last of the Sea Nomads, viewed 1 May 2015, <>.

Lost in Internet 2014, Bajau Laut: Last of the Sea Nomads, James Morgan, viewed 1 May 2015, <;.

Aljazeera 2012, Poverty and Development: Indonesia’s Last Nomadic Sea Gypsies, viewed 1 May 2015, <>.


Matador Network 2014, Last of the Sea Nomads, Johnny Langenheim, viewed 1 May 2015, <;.

One thought on “Post D: The People of The Coral Triangle

  1. Devastating that they’ve had to resort to destructive methods to be able to maintain their livelihoods and lifestyle. More devastating that they seem to be killing the thing that they love most. I always assumed that overfishing and destructive fishing practises were the domain of big trawlers owned by bigger corporations. Its a shame that their fishing skills and wealth of knowledge about the ocean cannot be used in a more sustainable way. Fascinating post- looking forward to seeing the film someday soon.

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