For generations the Bajau Laut lived entirely on the sea, fishing during the day and sleeping in long boats called lepa-lepa. Indigenous to the Coral Triangle, the area spanning Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, they have survived by fishing off the region’s reefs. Many are known to free dive to depths of over 200 feet.
In the past few decades much of the Bajau population has migrated to shore—partly as a result of overfishing. To remain competitive players in this market, the Bajau—many of whom still rely on handmade spears and goggles—have modernized their practices by using cyanide and dynamite to stun the fish. According to the World Wildlife Fund, these practices have devastated the marine biosystem of the Coral Triangle and threaten the Bajau’s main source of food and income.
Photographer James Morgan began documenting the Bajau Laut in 2004—to do so he learned Indonesian and how to free dive. He says he wants to document a disappearing way of life but also examine how the Bajau’s “uniquely intimate understanding of the ocean” can be used to develop more sustainable fishing practices.