2 – 12 November 2009

We noticed from early on how different the sea gypsies from Wakatobi lived compared to their Bajau relatives from Sabah, Malaysia and the Philippines. The Bajo from Wakatobi reclaimed land and had sturdy houses on top of their new land. We heard from Sugi how complex the situation is because the new land comes from mined corals. It is a very sensitive issue and one we noticed and felt right away when we stoped to photograph the coral miners.

This woman starts working at six in the morning and fills her canoe with dead corals

This woman starts working at six in the morning and ends her day by four in the afternoon.  Twice during the day she fills her canoe with dead corals

Each canoe load of corals fetches her 85,000 Rupiah or $8.50 so for her extreme hard work, she earns $17 a day

Each canoe load of corals fetches 85,000 Rupiah or $8.50.  For her extreme hard work, this woman earns $17 a day

This mined coral is the foundation of people's houses all over this region

This mined coral is the foundation of people’s houses all over this region

This woman miner thought we were going to stop them and call the police.

This woman miner thought we were going to stop them and call the police.

The Bajo kampung in Kaledupa totally reclaimed with coral as its foundation

The Bajo kampung in Kaledupa totally reclaimed with coral as its foundation

Bajo community in Wangi Wangi

Bajo community in Wangi Wangi

Kampung Sama Bahari shows tide changing water level on the walls of the coral foundation

Kampung Sama Bahari shows tide changing water level on the walls of the coral foundation

Sail powered canoe brings home coral from the day's mining efforts

Sail powered canoe brings home coral from the day’s mining efforts

I had a long conversation with Sugi about his fears and hopes for conservation in this area. Wakatobi is 100% marine park divided into different take and no-take zones. He asked me, “See these two old women working so hard to earn a living? How do I tell them to stop what they may have been doing for many many years in the name of conservation?” He asked me a question I do not know the answer to.