… continued from September 13th
A Day in the Life
My experience on a South Sea pearl farm in Australia
By Ahbra Perry of ‘On the Reel Productions.’
Down on the deck below, the divers have returned from their last trip of the day and everything is wrapping up. A suspicious smell wafts up from the kitchen, likely canned spaghetti pie and meat lump. I try not to breathe. By the time I make it down to the main deck, everyone has vanished off to the showers, attempting to scrub off the daily layer of salt, or huddled in their bunks, trying to pick up enough Internet service for a few precious Skype moments with their significant other.
One of the young men from East Timor slowly walks back and forth spraying the deck with a fire hose of seawater. His name is Masa and he has been in Australia for 18 months in a program set up by Clipper Pearls. He has been learning the trade, and so far has sent his family enough money to buy a house, a car, and schooling for his younger siblings. Masa tells me how he is going to return home and set up his own pearl farm. He already has the site picked out.
Masa heads into dinner and I get a moment to breathe. The sunset is a painting. There is absolutely nothing else around and the seas are calm. The same squabble from this morning loudly approaches me from behind. Pat and some of the crew have brought a case of the “good stuff” up to end the day with. By “good stuff,” I mean Aussie 3.2% beer. There are regulations about the alcohol content the crew can consume while out at sea, so we all sip our cold flavored water together. Patrick points out Eighty Mile beach to the east, a historic site for the pearling luggers of the past, as a giant sea turtle swims by.
Francesco comes to the back of the boat with a big bucket and everyone cheers. Alright! He must be throwing dinner overboard and we’ll get takeout! Fat chance. He dumps the scraps from breakfast and lunch (which strikingly resemble dinner) overboard as I watch curiously.
“Chumming ‘ze water,” he says, “we are going fishing.”
Before I know it, dozens of small fish have gathered at the surface, so preoccupied with feeding that they fail to notice the larger fish coming up to eat them. It is getting dark now, so a few of the guys put on their head lamps and drop their lines in the water. I cannot believe the feeding frenzy that is happening. I have never seen such a cluster of marine life from the surface of the water. Every type of fish you can imagine has swum to the surface: turtles, rays, even sea snakes. It seems that Francesco has finally found an audience for his cooking.
One of the guys next to me gets a promising bite and is really struggling to pull the line in. Something big is hooked. He slowly reels in a giant Mackerel.
Patrick starts talking about fresh sushi, and right as I get my hopes up, a huge tiger shark breaks the surface of the water and chomps our sushi dinner in half. Hunger pangs and groans of frustration roll in from the crew as we reel in only the head of what could have been a delicious meal. I’m too despondent to speak.
I was so excited about my sashimi that I didn’t see that we now had six to eight tiger sharks circling the boat. They are impressive creatures to watch until you realize that not only did they steal your dinner, they are going to be feeding around the boat all night- and you’ll be diving in that water at sunrise.
“Sleep well tonight, huh?” says Pat.
No. Probably not. There is never a dull moment on a pearl farm.
Ahbra Perry is a filmmaker whose shorts have played in Cannes, Palm Springs, and the New York Film Festivals. She studied film at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco before forming On The Reel Productions with her partner Taylor Higgins. The two have poured their hearts and souls into telling great stories, raising social awareness, promoting an urgent need for the conservation of marine biodiversity, and for the empowerment of indigenous women. An educational series enlisted their wanderlust for a month long trip around the world with the Cultured Pearl Association of America. While in the Philippines their eyes were opened to a new side of the pearl. They are both driven by the dream of completing this film and sharing their passions with the world.