The Sea Gypsies of the Andaman Sea

ADVERTISEMENT



Image: HA’a (Robert Berman)

They may look like regular folks frolicking in the water on a hot summer’s day, but they’re really much more remarkable than that. They are the Moken, a group of about 2,000 to 3,000 people who are born, live and die traveling the Andaman Sea around Southern Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). Settling only during monsoon season, these “Sea Gypsies” live more than half the year in boats called kabang, each made from a single tree. They are master fishermen and expert divers, catching fish on spears with ease, while collecting a variety of other fruits of the sea by hand, such as sea cucumbers at low tide and shellfish at high tide.


Image: Ronnakorn Potisuwan

Moken children learn how to swim before they can walk. The Moken can plunge to depths of 75 feet without any life support gear and can also lower their heart rates in order to hold their breaths for twice as long as other humans. And that’s not all: Swedish scientist Anna Gislen also found that Moken children have the power to constrict their pupils to tiny pinpoints when they’re in the water, enabling them to sharpen their sight and see much better underwater than the rest of us.

ADVERTISEMENT


Image: Ronnakorn Potisuwan

But how do they do it? At first, scientists thought that there might be some super-sighted genetic variation in play; after all, the Moken have been diving for hundreds of years. Perhaps, but Gislen’s studies with European children showed some pretty cool results – after four to six months of training, Swedish youngsters would automatically constrict their pupils when they came in contact with water, though not to the extent of the Moken children, who have been practising this exercise far longer.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT