Photo report: Coastal life in the face of the climate crisis

Geger Riyanto

The coastal township of Parigi was not originally as dependent on yellowfin tuna as it is today. Like many other villages in Seram, central Maluku, it was settled by those who came to the island to cultivate their own copra plantations and grow other forest products. In the first half of the 20th century, people began to settle there due to soaring commodity prices.


If one goes to Parigi these days, one thing she will immediately notice are the coconut palms. They are everywhere. The village itself was once a copra plantation. As more and more people began to settle, houses were built and the plantation slowly turned into a veritable settlement.

Since the early days of the settlement, the people of Parigi have relied on fishing as a source of food and income. The fishermen mainly caught skipjack tuna, which they used for their own consumption or resold in other colonies.

The fishmongers are waiting for the fishermen/Geger

Along with staple crops and staple crops, fishing is an important activity that supports the livelihoods of the villagers of Parigi. Their daily routines revolve around fishing. They will set sail at daybreak. When they return, their wives will already be waiting on the shore to help carry their gear and bring in the catch. At home, they will discuss with other anglers about fishing and prepare their tools. Fishermen form groups to assemble fish traps that cannot be assembled by a single individual. As a group, they maintain the regulation of fishing rules.

The central place of fishing in the life of the inhabitants of Parigi was further accentuated with the beginning of the yellowfin boom in the mid-2000s. Buyers of yellowfin began to appear, offering very good prices for their taken. In the decade since the boom began, Parigi has experienced massive population growth. At the end of the 1990s, the population was around 300 inhabitants. By 2015, it had risen to nearly 1,300.

The village experienced a period of unprecedented prosperity thanks to the boom. New houses were built and old ones were renovated. Fishermen bought better quality boats. Parents sent their children to college and university.

A fisherman opens a yellowfin/geger tuna

Repair an old boat/Geger

An effigy of yellowfin tuna marched in the Islamic New Year parade in Paris

When I returned to Paris in 2018, the situation had started to change. Anglers could still catch yellowfin tuna, but the number couldn’t compare to what it was several years ago. At a glance, this was apparently caused by the change in their fishing method. The normal practice was to use a kite-controlled false flying fish bait to catch yellowfin tuna swimming at the surface. Now anglers can only catch tuna by lowering a squid bait into the lower part of the ocean. This last method of fishing takes much longer.

Why is yellowfin tuna becoming scarce on the surface of the ocean? Research has argued that it is one of the immediate effects of global warming.

Fish populations are indeed changing in the North Seram. Even skipjack catches have declined, and those who used to eat only one fish for their family meal have had to adapt.

People started racking up debt as their catch dwindled, but they relied on cash more than ever. They stopped renovating their houses halfway through. They tried what they could to attract fish, including making new fish traps or wandering further out to sea, which would cost them dearly if they still couldn’t catch more fish.

A fisherman shows a fake handmade flying fish bait/Geger

A newly assembled fish trap set in the sea/Geger

On February 22, 2022, a storm surge hit Parigi. The ocean tidal waves destroyed boats and houses. Storm surges had happened time and time again, but this one was different. Nothing had ever been so devastating as this. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Jhoko, a young fisherman from Parigi, told me.

From videos sent to me by my friends in Parigi, villagers can be seen helplessly watching the devastation caused by the violent waves. They shout to fishermen who are still trying to save their boats, warning that they could be swept away by the waves. Even when the ocean calmed down, the villagers whose houses were next to the shore did not want to return home. They fled to higher ground and were afraid of a worse storm surge.

A fisherman ties up the ropes of his boat amid the raging storm /Jhoko Wally

Villagers in Parigi take shelter in an emergency tent the night following the storm surge/Jhoko Wally

The villagers of Parigi have now returned home. However, no one can say what will happen to this coastal community next. Amid our ever-warming world, there is only uncertainty for people whose livelihoods depend on the ocean.

Geger Riyanto ([email protected]) is a doctoral candidate in Heidelberg, Germany. Images 9 and 10 are from Jhoko Wally, a friend from Paris. The others are by the author, who also wrote the accompanying article on the fishing community of Parigi.

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