Sulu-Sulawesi Seas Book
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The Sulu-Sulawesi Seas rank among the most diverse and valuable habitats on earth. Home to millions of species of plants and animals, from marine mammal behemoths to minute microorganisms, this ecoregion straddles three Southeast Asian countries - the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia - and is a seat of these nations' common seafaring history and traditions. It has become an urgent priority of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), through its Global 200 Program, to look beyond narrow geographic boundaries to conserve this natural resource of tremendous universal significance. The oceans are in grave danger, and it is only when man realizes what he stands to lose that the value of this planet's vast marine ecosystems come to the fore. This book, "The Sulu-Sulawesi Seas", is a celebration of the beauty and biodiversity of this marine ecoregion. It is a breathtaking chronicle in images and words of the different habitats and cultures that exist here today, the formidable threats to the area's continuing existence, and the responsibility which man must acknowledge in order to preserve this primeval cradle of evolution. More importantly, however, this book aims to capture, through the dramatic photographs of Jürgen Freund, the many facets of a priceless treasure that may slowly be slipping from our hands - and which we must save if we are to ensure the continuity of life itself.

I first began traveling extensively through this Asian triangle of the Philippines, Borneo and Sulawesi in 1996. I was immediately struck by the immense color, richness and diversity of the region, something I had not seen in my earlier dive travels. I spent more and more time here, mainly documenting the underwater world. In the course of my work, I eventually became more involved with the people of the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas. While working on a story about sea snakes in the Philippines, I met a group of whale shark hunters from Pamilacan Island in Bohol. To document their hunting activities, I lived on Pamilacan for 10 weeks. Here, I learned from these simple but very warm and accommodating people how hard life can be, as they depended solely on the sea. This experience completely changed my understanding of what "fishing for a living" really meant. However cruel the whale shark hunt may seem, these hunters did what they have been taught to do by their fathers and forefathers. They didn't kill for fun, but for the need to feed their fast-growing families. They knew no other way to survive.

The increasing human population throughout the thousands of islands in the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas has put too much pressure on the marine environment. Through the years, I have seen so much reef destruction from dynamite and cyanide fishing and became so frustrated that, for a brief moment, I considered giving up underwater photography. But I cannot. Today I continue to document both the beautiful and the ugly.

On a visit to Tawi-Tawi in southern Philippines, I was fascinated by the gentle and beautiful Bajau people. For centuries, these sea gypsies have roamed the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas. Sadly, most Bajau have relocated to stilt-house settlements. They have become caught between their traditional way of life on the sea and modern civilization. No matter how many times I returned to Tawi-Tawi, I could no longer find any traditional sea nomads with their beautifully carved lepa boats. With perseverance and constant searching, though, I finally found them - in the Semporna Islands in Malaysia. In a magical place called Pulau Gaya, I had the opportunity to live with the sea gypsies and document their way of life. This long quest to find them made me realize that not only do we have a vanishing marine ecosystem, but many of the region's cultures are fast disappearing as well.

But still I see hope. Some fishing communities now actively protect their fishing grounds and coral reefs, and others have mangrove reforestation programs. Once given a chance, the sea can replenish itself. In the Sulawesi Sea northwest of Manado Indonesia, using only simple bamboo fishing rods and small hooks, funae fishermen can pull a ton of tuna from the sea in two hours. They could easily take more, but they have a simple philosophy: "Why take so much? We still want to keep some fish for tomorrow."

My unforgettable experiences are what have led to this book. Three countries, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, encompass the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas. My idea was to show the underwater world shared by the three countries, and then to represent each country through photo-stories of the coastal people and their fishing activities. The pictures in the chapter "Threats," however, are a wild mix from all over the Sulu-Sulawesi Seas. The marine wildlife in these three countries are very much the same; I did not describe the specific location of each picture, since you may find any of these animals or landscapes anywhere in this ecoregion. To shoot enough pictures for this book, I traveled and dived for five years, in many, many reefs, from Anilao in the Philippines in the north, down to Sipadan and Mabul in Malaysia and then on to Kakaban and Manado, Indonesia in the south.

To learn more about the WWF Sulu Sulawesi Marine Ecoregion visit:










25,4 cm x 30,5 cm coffeetable book, 256 full color pages, in English, weighing 2 kg.
Price is AUS$ 100.- plus shipping and handling.


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