In our voyage on the Baruna Adventurer in 1996, across the Flores Sea to the southern islands of Sulawesi, we encountered impoverished fishing communities & malnourished children. As we approached the island of Alor east of Flores in the Indonesian Archipelago, entire villages would empty out of their homes and children out of schools... if there were any on the remote islands.
Running along the beach, the children would trail our ship, waving and shouting as we sailed parallel to the shore. They scrambled to launch small outrigger canoes and as soon as we anchored in the bay, the hungry children would row out furiously, surround our ship and wait expectantly for food or anything else we could give them.
Naturally, the Captain was reluctant to let the children on board; there were so many of them and one could imagine the riot these kids could cause. We tossed about everything we could spare into the water, close to their canoes and they would leap into the sea to compete for the prize. It seemed almost like a game but looking through the lens as I filmed the scene, I could see in closeup, the varying expressions of anxiety, hope, confusion, disappointment or triumph... their emotions heightened by hunger and desperation. Their skinny arms and bodies, some with swelling bellies and yellowing hair underscored their plight.
Yet, these islands were in the heart of the planet's most abundant region of marine biodiversity. In fact, the region is where the reefs had its genesis, flourishing along the equatorial zone as great land masses drifted and the earth was reformed in the early geological evolution of the planet. Indeed the reefs here were prolific and in some areas lush and overgrown .... but the denizens of the reef, the fish were gone. The sea was virtually empty.
I filmed the sequences for my documentary Deeps Asia, while on expedition with David Doubilet of the National Geographic. It was David's first South East Asian assignment for the cover story of the January 1999 issue of the magazine ironically titled "Coral Eden".... where hunger haunts the children of the reefs.
I often wonder what has happened to those children since I was last there and had hoped for many years to return ... but I could not very well do so with empty hands for empty stomachs. The making of the documentary as an independent was a pioneering effort and extremely difficult.... but that is another story. I have yet to bring closure to their unspoken plea;
"Tell our story, for we know nothing but our village and the world knows nothing of us".
David narrates part of the trailer.The video and pictures on my blog