How a legend saved thousands of lives

“There is a big hole in the ocean where all the fish sleep. When these millions of fish wake up every day, they are hungry and come out of the hole to eat. As they empty this hole, the sea water gets into the hole instead and the sea level lowers: this is low tide. After eating, they get back into the hole to rest, squeezing the sea water out, and raising the ocean level as a consequence: this is high tide.” Lena passionately tells us the story the way she learnt it from the Moken people. These sea nomads of the Adaman Sea have been passing this legend on for generations, saving thousands of lives.

The story continues: “There is a giant sea monster that lives in the hole. It sleeps for many, many years, but when it wakes up, it is starving and it gets out to eat. Then, all the water fills the massive hole, and the sea retracts more than usual. The monster jumps out of the ocean and dives back into the water to hunt, causing a massive wave. This is the tsunami.”

Thanks to this story, the Mokens could read the signs and realised the tsunami was about to hit on December 26, 2004. They ran to higher grounds on the Surin islands and no Moken life was lost during this devastating tsunami which killed more than a quarter million people along the Asian coasts.

If the Moken people survived the tsunami, today, they are facing another threat. As sea nomads living in the waters between Myanmar and Thailand, they get marginalised by the authorities who want to push them into a sedentary way of living to respect immigration and education laws, as well as maritime conservation. Moken people who have been fishing with tridents and spears, developing second to none free diving abilities are now forced to live on some islands like the Surin islands. In the heart of the Surin National Park, officially, fishing is absolutely forbidden, and this deprives them of their self-sustainable way of living. On other islands, they get pushed out by real estate developers as they did not register the land ownership by lack of knowledge and education. Adapting to modern life is probably the toughest challenge the Moken people have been facing.

Exploring the stunning underwater world of the Surin and Similan islands on a SCUBA diving liveaboard trip, we were surprised to see many industrial fishing boats taking shelter in the turquoise waters of marine national parks, surrounding the islands. Resting in the shallow waters, they go fishing two kilometres away from the coast, as authorized by law, and in a way that is far from being sustainable with slightly more than tridents and spears… If the situation is much better than in neighbouring Cambodia, a few fish traps can be seen underwater, in the national parks. The position of local authorities is hard to understand…

Claire & Marcella

Travel tips:

  • If you want to meet the Mokens, Wicked diving organises overnight snorkeling trips to one of the Moken villages in the Surin islands where you can learn more about this fascinating culture.
  • A liveaboard SCUBA diving trip to explore the breathtaking underwater world around these stunning islands is also a good opportunity to learn more about the Mokens and support them (Wicked Diving uses 2% of all its revenue to help local communities and ecosystems).
  • Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!


6 thoughts on “How a legend saved thousands of lives

  1. Indeed. Traditional ways of life are under threat in many parts of the world. In a way we seem to be getting to a point of cultural homogenization…and speaking about sustainability, we’ve read about fishermen using explosives or cynide to fish! Sigh

  2. Pingback: SCUBA diving some of the world’s best | Best regards from far,

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