The seaweed is then packed into bales much like hay and sent onto the middleman or agent who then sells it to the market and manufacturers. But this isn’t the type of seaweed that you find wrapped around your sushi. This seaweed is used to make all kinds of things you use potentially every day. In fact I’m constantly amused thinking that the seaweed I walk past in the morning could end up being in my toothpaste, ice cream, shampoo, conditioner, soy milk, pate or even fire fighting foam! Seaweed has incredible thickening properties so it’s used like a gel or setting agent in many toiletries and everyday foods.
Nusa Lembongan is one of the islands that makes up the three islands off the coast of Sanur, with Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan being the other two. If you google industry and Nusa Lembongan it brings up links to seaweed farming, diving tours, snorkeling, and of course tourism.
The people of Lembongan always knew they had stunning waterways, with brightly coloured corals and stunning and exotic marine life. They have been doing subsistence fishing for as long as they have been on the island but now much of that fishing is making way for a more commercial enterprise: water sport tourism. Diving, snorkeling and mangrove tours in small boats is rapidly taking over, if not already taken over, the fishing industry on the island. It’s still hard work for the operators but financially the reward for their family is much higher. And for those who don’t have their own boats, they work for some of the islands companies, Bali Hai Cruises for example, offering financial security and family stability. Without this water sport tourism on the island, families can be broken up as younger generations have to leave for the mainland to work to support their families. In having responsible tourism on the island, it provides a way for families to stay together in their villages and continue to live and work on the beautiful island.
Seaweed farming is evident all over the island, with many tidal areas around the area covered in the square patchwork and straight lines of the farmed seaweed. Good quality seaweed requires the fluctuating tides that flow around Nusa Lembongan, with high tides and sunshine for growth and the low tides so the farmers can race around harvesting their crop. The crop is then dried and although at times the smell is quite strong, there’s something fascinating about watching the process of seaweed plants being prised apart and spread out on tarpaulins, tables or benches to dry.
The drying process can take time and during that time it is subject to the weather and conditions so many families cover their seaweed when required. It’s not uncommon to see chickens foraging through the seaweed looking for bugs – one farmer told me he didn’t mind because he thinks the chickens are helping to clean.
It’s back-breaking work and often the farmers are only earning up to 100k IDR per day, so naturally some of the younger generation are leaving the farming industry and moving into other areas to help support their families. Depending on which site you read, some say seaweed farming is the cornerstone of Nusa Lembongan, some say it’s a micro-industry. I like to think that each industry on Lembongan works alongside the other, with island tours showing families and visitors the important seaweed farms, the locals living on the island working with the diving and snorkeling companies, and many also working in the beautiful beachfront resorts and restaurants.