Monday 5 June 2023

Agar agar

Years ago The Boy came back from his year in New Zealand and stopped off in Bali because it was there: on the way, like. He even fell in with a French girl with whom he sustained a long distance relationship - London / Montpellier - for a while. But beyond "Indonesia", I might have been hard-put to locate Bali within the archipelago. It turns out that it's the island immediately to the East of Java and only a 4km ferry journey from the larger island. It takes 45 minutes from Ketapang in Java and Gilimanuk in Bali and costs 6,500 IDR one way which is about 50c US!

It's a wider passage to the next island, Lombok, and the intervening strait is much more significant because the Wallace Line [prev] funnels straight through it. The Wallace Line marks a major change in the flora and especially the fauna between Asia vs Wallacea, a transitional zone between Asia and Australia [lorra marsupials, Eucalyptus etc.]. If you look closely at the map [L] filched from Wikipedia, you'll see that the line [carelessly] cuts right across an island on the Bali side of the strait. That can't be correct, and it turns out that there are three islands- Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Penida and Nusa Ceningan - not just one; although they are all in the same administrative district . . . and on the Asian side of the Wallace Line.

I think it's probably fair to say that nobody who lives on Nusa Lembongan cares tuppence about how close they are to the biogeographical delimiter. They are much more interested in scrabbling together enough to send the kids to school in shoes and have a few beers on the weekend. The island is, literally, a tropical paradise IF you rock up with some hard currency which, as we see from the ferry price above, goes a long way. A few beers all week long, indeed. Someone has to serve those beers and rent out surf-boards and so there is a living to be made from tourism.

During the pandemic, however, tourists dried up and blew away and local entrepreneurs returned to their previous vocation of farming sea weed. In particular the red algae Eucheuma cottonii and E. spinosum. The islands of Lembongan and Ceningan are separated by a shallow tidal lagoon and currently drone-footage shows the sea-bottom is carved up into roughly rectangular patches of different colours depending on how recently the algae has been harvested. It's a bit precarious because the whole area could be tossed to buggery if/when a powerful tropical cyclone passes through. But depending on the global market place for carageenan seaweed can be part of the local economy as well as supplying sunscreen to beach-bums.

It wasn't ever thus! Before the sea was farmed it was fished and however the commons were distributed then, it surely wasn't dependent on a rectangular grid.

Carageenan is widely used as a stabilizer, thickener, gelling agent, emulsifier, and protective colloid which prevents crystallization when a paste is desired. The gloop is widely used in the food industry, medicine, microbiology [Petri dishes] cosmetics, textiles, paints, toothpaste . . . so many emulsions in tins and tubes across the developed world.

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