Archive for August, 2010

“…that the entire range of living matter on Earth, from whales to viruses, and from oaks to algae, could be regarded as constituting a single living entity…”

August 3, 2010

Ah, the island life! Every time I slap a mosquito on my neck, I check behind my ears; thankfully, the gills have not yet sprouted. So I strap on a snorkel to dive into the shallow Java Sea, whether to check the flow of a new feeding pipe, trawl the sandy banks for traces of degradation, or merely mingle with eels and urchins. In the afternoons I read books from Alain’s shelf while guiltily gulping bottled water and smoking kretek.

On the way to the island, Sofjan – a zealous, jealous entrepreneur – quizzed me: “You are against farmed salmon? How about GMOs? Are you from Greenpeace?” I tried to answer dispassionately. After dinner that evening, I peeled a salak contemplatively. One of the workers piped up: “I saw organic salak for sale in Jakarta.” Sofjan laughed uproariously, pointing at me. “Organic? This one knows organic – and he’s willing to pay for it!” I ignored this comment, not wishing to delve into the connections between pesticide use and farmworker health, the hidden (and artificially low) costs of food, or my own reservations about Big Organic. Finding my conventionally-grown fruit slightly damaged, I cut away the bruised quarter and ate the rest. This caught Sofjan’s eye. “Ah,” he said, smiling. “I would have just thrown it out.”

Fega Marikultura produces about 400 metric tons of barramundi fillets per year. For Sofjan’s 80th birthday (in four years), he wants 30,000 tons. For reference, 30,000 metric tons is just slightly higher than the global barramundi harvest in 2004. (This figure, I should mention, comes from a report that Alain discredits entirely. In fact, he has penned a three-page defense of Pulau Jukung’s sustainability in response to Seafood Watch’s scathing 2006 report.) After three days here, I am inclined to agree with much of what he says – but with plans to grow 7500% over the next four years, the innocent effects of effluent cannot continue unchecked. And it still takes 1.5 kg of fish feed to grow 1 kg of barramundi fillet, a net protein loss – except that every kilogram of barramundi fillet also yields another kilo of guts, bones, and scales. So the protein recycles, just as Jukung’s channelized current recycles fish feces into the surrounding reef.

Or so Alain claims. Of course, it would take time and sophisticated equipment to properly monitor the balance of nutrients in such a complex and delicate ecosystem. But to be fair, Sofjan inherited a mortally wounded reef when he set up twenty years ago: scarred by fishing with dynamite and cyanide, castrated by hungry hands snatching at brilliant fins for aquarium pets. So perhaps “pristine” in my previous post was an overstatement. Nevertheless, the reef appears to be recovering. This is no barren wasteland of coral corpses. Deep lilac brains and vibrant lime mushrooms lurk beneath the surface; parrotfish and angelfish still dart amongst blue starfish and giant clams. And yet this afternoon, from the porch of my bungalow, I spied a strange orange snorkel jutting up between the shallow waves like a sore sea cucumber…

“The real problem,” as Alain is fond of saying, “is too many people.” As usual, I am inclined to agree.

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Pulau Jukung

August 1, 2010

Arrived last night after dinner. Of course, I forgot my camera in Jakarta. With luck it will arrive sometime next week. In the meantime, a cursory inventory of my surroundings, equal parts Willy Wonka’s Ichthyoid Factory and Jurassic Park, complete with:

An archipelagic current that baffles motorboats and dislodges anchors. Stories of a pristine coral reef just offshore. Biawak  prowling the sewers and fighting underneath our bungalows. Constant sorting and re-sorting of barramundi to discourage cannibalism. A simple, elegant food chain from algae to fish. And a healthy helping of hermaphroditism.

I’m still getting my bearings. More, much more, to come.