The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: photography

Farewell from Raw Paua and the Land Under Down Under.

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Live Dinner and Raw Paua. Photo: Pauline Nobels. Courtesy of Owen James Burke.

As the crew of the good ship Scuttlefish sets sail for new horizons, Raw Paua and I have but a handful of weeks left to spend in this fine South Sea summer. We’re not quite sure where we’ll roam, but it’s safe to say we won’t trudge too far from the sea or her foam.

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On the Road to Meet the Andaman Sea Gypsies. Part III: The Shorebound Moken and the Plight of the Andaman Sea Gypsy.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

After over a week of dead-end slogging from port to port in Burma, I finally found a group of Moken living on an island near the Thai border. There were less than a hundred of them at the time of my visit, and though they were so close to shore and its modern facilities, they remained nationless with no political representation, no identification–that means no healthcare. Apart from generators and cisterns, they had gained none of the societal comforts that might be associated with moving ashore–and, in doing so, seem to have been forced to abandon old ways. This small village, for example, no longer has any of their traditional kabangs, the beautiful teak longboats designed for offshore sailing in which the Moken have been living and roaming in flotillas for centuries. The vessel above is a scaled down version of the kabang, the stone-aged Andaman Sea dugout longboat.

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A traditional Moken kabang, or houseboat. Image via Indigenous Boats.

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Fishing, like in other Andaman Sea communities during the monsoon season, is largely restricted to the tidal flats where crabs, small fish, sharks and bivalves are collected. Despite political oppression–or what may better be described as abandonment–these Moken seem to make out alright. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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The elders of this village–formerly a flotilla–decided to move ashore about 15 years ago for healthcare and education, if not for themselves, then for their children. Photo: Owen James Burke.

Why move ashore? That was the first question I had. The general consensus among the handful of village elders I interviewed (with a translator) seemed to be opportunities like healthcare and schooling for children. The Thai government have begun to issue Thai identity cards, but unlike full-blown citizenship, they offer marginal access to state-run schools and hospitals. Further, the process is slow-going for any number of reasons; the Thai government, if asked, would state that it has much larger, more pressing matters to face, and tracking down the small but scattered population of Moken (estimated at around 2,000) living in and around Thailand and Burma is no small chore–to that, I can surely attest.

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‘We can fish, we can grow gardens, we can eat. But we can’t go to the hospital. We need identification.’ Photo: Owen James Burke.

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On the Road to Meet the Andaman Sea Gypsies. Part II: Boating Amongst the Slaveships in Myeik, Burma.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

A pale-gray haze lay over the port of Myeik, backed by a droning cacophony of outboard motors and dredges. Few were talking. Almost no one was smiling. The scene looked bleak, and the scarcity of the sun didn’t brighten the picture.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

But then almost all commercial fishing ports carry this tone. It was only later, in Thailand, that I came to realize how close to the edge of hell some of these people were living.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

With no permission granted from the government to visit the Mergui Archipelago where the Moken–a small, disenfranchised group of sea-dwelling ethnic Austronesians known in Burma as the Selung–are said to live, I had left Yangon for Myeik, 535 miles to the south where my travel agent–though she’d advised against it–suggested I might find a captain willing to sneak me out to meet the elusive virtuosos of the sea.

My flight had landed earlier that day and I’d caught a motorcycle taxi straight down to the port of Myeik, which I was told would be the busiest and therefore likeliest harbor for me to hitch a ride out to the Mergui Archipelago where the Moken are said to weather monsoon season.

I had no intention of spending a single night in Myeik–I’d already lost enough time in Yangon. It was still early in the morning, and as far as I could tell, the weather looked fair enough to set sail for open water.

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This Is Life in an Andaman Sea Village During Monsoon Season. A Photo Essay.

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One moment, the Burmese coast of the Andaman Sea looked like this, frenzied and white-horsed, with gale force winds and pelting–literally stinging–rain. The next, it would abate to the sobering serenity of still air and blue skies. All of this has no bearing on the people living in small stilted villages on the Andaman Sea, who make their homes and feed their children day-in, day-out, year-round, come wind, hail, rain or shine. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Watching these small narrow boats fade out on the horizon behind a line of squalls chilled my bones to the marrow. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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The sound of the rain meeting this tarpaulin-tin city was tremendous. It hushed all conversation and jarred your concentration. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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But then, moments later, it would look like this, but regardless of the weather, tide or hour, these longboats seemed to be buzzing in and out port all day long. Photo: Owen James Burke.

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Wish You Were Here: Traveling the Lost Coast, Northern California

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Somewhere along the northern reaches of California State Highway One. Photo: Owen James Burke.

There are few places left on earth as rife with life as Northern California’s Lost Coast. Several years ago, after abandoning my partner, job and apartment to hop into the back of a van and go salmon fishing with a couple of friends, I encountered these lonely little peaks along the road. With no board or wetsuit–this was strictly a fishing mission–we had to pass them by, but the empty A-frames along this desolate stretch of beach have been on my mind ever since. Someday, I keep telling myself. . . .

How was the salmon fishing, you ask? I think this picture speaks for itself:

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

–OJB

“The Lady of the Lake.” This Is What the Gales of November Look Like on Lake Erie

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“There have been moments on Lake Erie where I have lowered my camera,looked over it & literally out loud said to myself “What. The. Hell… Did I just see” and my jaw drops.. This was one of those moments” — Photographer Dave Sandford.

. . . And, this is the weather that took down the 729-foot iron ore carrier the Edmund Fitzgerald on nearby Lake Superior over 40 years ago this fall.

London photographer Dave Sandford wanted to see the gales of November on the Great Lakes for himself, so he set out for Canada this past fall to capture some of the most treacherous conditions Lake Erie could produce. The results are enough to evoke terror and humility in any waterperson, salty or sweet.

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Wish You Were Here: Titirangi Bay, Cook Strait, New Zealand

Scuttlefish writer Owen James Burke is currently rambling around New Zealand in a camper van with a camera, surfboard and speargun in search of stories, waves and fish. We’re putting together a waterperson’s guide to the island nation, but meanwhile, we’ll be publishing stories and photographs, short updates along the way from the Yankee in Kiwiland. -CD

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

It’s a long dirt and gravel road full of hairpin switchbacks to the outer Marlborough Sounds, but the view alone is well worth the journey, even in a tired old truck such as Raw Paua.

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Photo: Owen James Burke.

These are the old whaling grounds of the European settlers, who built lookout stations on the tops of these hills in order to spot the abundance of sperm and humpback whales passing through the Cook Strait. Whaling in New Zealand came to an end in 1964, but some of the stations still stand today. They’re a long hike out, but recommended. Leave the spear at home.

–OJB

“African Shadows” by David Doubilet. Okavango Delta, Botswana.

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“African Shadows”, by David Doubilet. Okavango Delta, Botswana.

David Doubilet may be the world’s finest and most prolific underwater photographer, to which this singular photograph taken in Botswana is testament enough. Over the course of a 40+ year career in the field, he’s worked with Dr. Sylvia Earle and the Cousteaus, and published nearly 70 National Geographic stories since his first assignment in 1971.

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