(Last Updated On: September 22, 2022)
Image for Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farming Photo Essay
Farming Seaweed on Lembongan Island, Indonesia

Photographing Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farming

There are times when you see a scene, and you know it would make an amazing photo story and knew this right away with Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farming. Last fall, when I was visiting Lembongan Island, Bali, Indonesia, for the first time, I came across seaweed farms. As a westerner from a so-called developed country, I never really gave much thought to seaweed.

It was one of those things that I knew had at least marginal value as Nori (wrappers for sushi), and at the periphery of my awareness, I knew that it was used as an additive to food and cosmetics. But, like so many things, I took it for granted and never gave it any thought. Amazing, there are a whole group of real people working their asses off, for pennies a day, to provide me with a stable foam on my beer.

Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farming Photo Essay
Seaweed Farmer in Indonesia Carrying a Basket of Seaweed

Farming seaweed is hard work. The crop can only be tended at low tide, so instead of synchronizing your life with a calendar and clock, you synchronize your life to the rhythms of nature and the tides. If the tides are out during the day, you get to do back-breaking work in the heat of the sun. If the tides are out at night, you get to struggle under lamplight until the tide rises or your work is done.

Different types of seaweed grow at different rates, so you have to decide whether to grow the fast-growing but less valuable brown seaweed or grow the other more valuable variants that take longer to grow. Small-scale commercial seaweed farming is also pretty complicated.

Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farming Photo Essay
Three Generations of Seaweed Farmers on Lembongan Island, Indonesia

Climate Change Is Starting To Impact Seaweed Farming

As if that wasn’t enough to worry about climate change is starting to have an impact on yields and, even in remote Indonesia, globalization and fickle market forces reach uninvited into your life and determine whether or not you make even a meagre profit from your 10-meter by 10-meter plots of marshland.

Sadly on occasion, when yields and prices are low, seaweed farmers are forced to eat their crop for sustenance. When times are great, they can make enough to eke out a lesser level of poverty. Collectively the seaweed farmers on the three Balinese islands of Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida, and Nusa Ceningan used to produce 40 tons of seaweed a month, but changing weather patterns have dropped the yield to around 25 tons. The seaweed has not normally been growing, and much of it dies and begins rotting in the sea before it becomes ready to harvest.

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Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farming Photo Essay
Small-scale Commercial Seaweed Farming From a Small Boat Near Bali, Indonesia

Seaweed Farmers Made Me Feel Welcome

As a photographer, I was lucky because “golden hour” coincided with low tide. I just took my equipment out and started making photos. Even though I was uninvited, after a period of warming up, I was soon accepted, tolerated and even welcomed.

After a while, some of the farmers started laughing with (at) me and wanting to pose just for the novelty of being noticed and having their pictures made. I guess they weren’t used to seeing people wading out into the water to see their work, connect on a human level and take an interest in their lives. I was elated. Once again, I was humbled. A reminder of how privileged I am and how lucky I am to be enjoying this little retirement adventure I call life.

Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farming Photo Essay
Old Woman Seaweed Farmer on Lembongan Island

Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farming Photo Essay
Gathering the Seaweed Harvest on Lembongan Island, Indonesia

Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farming Photo Essay
Seaweed Farming on Lembongan Island, Indonesia, near Bali

Nusa Lembongan Seaweed Farming Photo Essay
Basket of Seaweed Harvested on Lembongan Island, Indonesia

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