How did we come to be doing this?

Duika’s story

I got interested in seaweed farming when I was doing an honours degree in Asian Studies at the Australian National University (oh so many years ago). I had a couple of great supervisors, Jim Fox and Amrih Widodo, who encouraged me to do a project in Indonesia (those were the days when you could DO such things and not just have to sit behind a desk to learn stuff). I’d spent some time on Nusa Lembongan, near Bali, on a dive trip with a local dive company and contacted them to see if they had any ideas of research I might do. My hope was that it would involve marine things (my love), and would let me use my Indonesian language skills. Mike Cortenbach, the director of the Bali Hai company, suggested that I have a look at seaweed farming around the island. They had been running dive trips in the area for years, and were interested in all the activity around farming. Why had become the major industry on the island over the previous decade or so? what was the seaweed for? why was nobody growing crops or so few people fishing? What was the relationship between farmers and tourists?

So thanks to Mike and his team, I got to live in luxury in their resort for a month, and headed out everyday to talk to the seaweed farmers, tourist operators and local officials. The picture at the top of this website is from Nusa Lembongan and is of the farms at high tide (they are all underwater so they need the boats to get to them). It was fascinating doing the research, and one of the things that really got me was that so few people – the locals or tourists alike – knew that they were so intimately connected to each other! The tourists were brushing their teeth with colgate and the farmers were growing some of the ingredients! There were so many missing connections and things that were ‘invisible’ to consumers and producers alike. I had to keep following the ‘thing’, as Arjun Appadurai would have it, so after finishing my honours I just kept going.

For my PhD I ended up in Prince Edward Island in Canada for a few months, living with the local community of Miminegash. They had made their living off seaweed harvesting until things started to go pear shaped in the late 70s (yep, when the people on Nusa Lembongan and in other places started farming seaweed). Stompin Tom Connor’s the famous Canadian country and western artist even sings a song about harvesting seaweed when he was a kid! At the same time I got interested in all things health and geography. I was starting to learn more and more about some of the things this ‘seaweed’ was used for – not least as the active ingredient in the FIRST female controlled protective gel against HIV/AIDs. I started to think that it was quite interesting that we like knowing where our food comes from, but we don’t tend to think much about where our ‘health’ or health products come from. So that became an abiding interest. Food, health, seaweed and what we know about our connections to the world through practices of consumption. But its hard to make a living just following a thing…

So I stuck with my research skills and with University life, and after finishing my PhD saw that I could combine interests in health and qualitative research to forge out a career. I worked at Newcastle University on all manner of things related to people’s qualitative experience of health and health services and ended up working in the area of ‘translational research’ at Durham University. I feel very privileged to be working on a number of important projects about head and neck cancer, and physical activity and obesity. At the same time, my interest in seaweed bubbles away – it is all too intriguing. Here is a product that is health manifest if you eat it! So good for you! And so easy to produce! Yet we seem mostly to be converting it into a magic white powder (carrageenan) to treat people who are already ill, or to prevent nasty diseases, or to add to food for functional purposes only. And there is so much waste product from carrageenan production that is not used. I have never been convinced we are getting the best value out of this amazing resource -even as some uses are clearly really quite amazing. With Hugging the Coast I get to think about that a bit more. Given the pressing health and environmental issues we face, should we be thinking more about the natural vitality of things and how best we can exploit them? Hmmm….

Johanna’s story
Hugging the Coast is a long way from where I began my career – as a professional classical musician. For almost 10 years I worked as a freelance performer with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (TSO), Australia. I did a music degree during that time (University of Tasmania), taught in Hobart schools, toured Australia and the World with the Australian Youth Orchestra, and benefitted from numerous fellowships and scholarships from Youth Music Australia and the National Music Camp Association. It was a great life and I still have many close friends from that era. In a way, I think that the abundance of opportunities I was given so early on in my ‘first career’ probably contributed to my needing to go out and do something different, both intellectually and physically. I was already doing quite a bit of bushwalking in the Tasmanian World Heritage Area and other spectacular national parks, but it was taking up rock climbing in my mid 20s that really sparked the ultimate shift from music into wilderness expeditions, and from there into academic studies in environmental philosophy, science and technology studies and human geography. That said, many of my friends in the TSO were avid bushwalkers, so the two worlds already went together in my mind.

After two years ‘trying out’ other ways of earning a living, spending all my spare time rock climbing, bushwalking, mountain biking (a lot of it with Duika, who is a superb mountain biker), and the odd bit of sea kayaking (with Vonna Keller, as it happens), a Tasmanian adventure buddy, Tim Anderson, suggested I go to NOLS – the National Outdoor Leadership School, in the United States. I was immediately drawn to the intensive nature of the training, their international programmes, and the idea that I would finish with concrete skills in wilderness leadership and education – and, importantly, that these skills would be transferrable into life more generally. I made several trips to the USA and Canada during 2000 and 2001, and, after some 150 field days in a range of remote environments, I graduated with the NOLS Mountain Instructor Award. I went back to Tasmania, made plans to move to the South Island of New Zealand so as to continue my development as a mountaineering leader (because I LOVE glacier travel), and looked forward to my first expedition contract for NOLS. Then two life-changing things happened in the same week of September 2001: the Twin Towers came down, and I met George, to whom I am now married. Instead of moving to NZ, I moved to London to be with George (though I did go to NZ en route, to climb Mt Aspiring with Vonna Keller, who had just returned from Great Trango in Pakistan). The world ‘mood’ post-9/11 had a dramatic impact on NOLS enrolments so there were few contracts for new international instructors. By the time an expedition contract came through, I was already committed to my role as Staff Development Manager at The Castle Climbing Centre, London. My NOLS training informed much of my work at the Castle, and, more than 10 years later, the Castle and all the people within it remain my home-and-family-away-from-home.

Given that I was unable to work on my beloved glaciers, I assuaged my ‘grief’ by doing a part-time Master’s Degree at Birkbeck College, University of London (I tell you, anyone who does a part-time degree whilst working full-time deserves respect – it was HARD yakka). It was during this time that I met Lena Conlan: in 2002 I needed to renew my WMI Wilderness First Responder certification, and the closest place to do that was in Stockholm, through Lena’s company, Crossing Latitudes. Our friendship grew from there: I participated in Crossing Latitudes sea kayaking trips as a client, then as an assistant; Lena and her sister, Åsa, came to London regularly to teach WMI-NOLS first aid courses at The Castle. When I asked Lena about being a key part of Hugging the Coast, I had no idea that it had been decades since she’d paddled for the hell of it, i.e. not primarily as a means to earn a living, albeit a self-admittedly enjoyable one. Her voluntary involvement in Hugging the Coast means a great deal to me.

Going back a step, though: after 5 full-time years at The Castle, I was ready for a new challenge. Duika, now also living as a Tasmanian expat in the UK, suggested I apply to the Geography Department of the Open University. I was fortunate to be offered an ESRC 1+3 Postgraduate Award (another Masters, this time in Research Methods, followed by a PhD in Geography). My research started in the staff welfare aspects of Corporate Social Responsibility, shifted into the politics of CR legislation for the MRes, and then, for the PhD, into the moral economy of global water governance and financing. When I was a few months away from submitting my thesis I realized I needed a new research project. I was also keen to do an expedition as both reward and rehabilitation after years of being desk-bound. Following several discussions with Duika, all of which were about exploring key intellectual questions through an expedition, I suddenly realized that Duika’s expertise in Indonesian seaweed farming, when put together with Lena’s vast experience of leading sea-kayaking expeditions, would make a very exciting combination. Thus, the idea behind Hugging the Coast crystalized into being; Duika, being the ‘ideas man’, gave the project its utterly perfect name.

The news that we had been awarded the Neville Shulman Challenge Award came during the same week of my PhD viva, in January 2012. It was a very good week indeed! Since then I’ve split my time by working as a Castle climbing instructor to get fit and pay the bills, and collaborating with Duika and Lena to put Hugging the Coast together. As Project Manager, I have the dubious pleasure of constantly looking at the budget and keeping on top of organizational gaps. I am nourished in this task, however, by Duika’s constant stream of ideas and intellectual insights, by Lena’s drive and enthusiasm for acquiring top quality equipment and reassuringly straight-talking guidance on all things technical, and knowing that Vonna Keller’s wide-ranging experience and immense psychological strength will see me through. Needless to say, I can’t wait to meet our Indonesian team mates at Tasik Ria Resort on 29th July – the day that Hugging the Coast becomes a reality.

I feel that Hugging the Coast is both serendipitous and timely. It is timely for two reasons. Firstly, because the role of seaweed derived products in global public health is only now becoming visible, not least through the work of people like Duika. Secondly, the importance of the Coral Triangle to global ecological diversity, and the lives and livelihoods of the communities who rely upon that diversity, has recently become a pressing concern due to climate change (hence the establishment of the Coral Triangle Initiative). Hugging the Coast is serendipitous because it would not be possible were it not for the personal and professional connections – and, moreover, the collective of skills and experience – shared between myself and Duika as friends and social scientists, with Lena and Vonna as friends and expeditioners, and Duika and Dr Dedi Adhuri and Prof.Grevo Gerung as colleagues and Indonesian marine resources experts. I believe that this coming together of issues and people is not easily replicable. Hugging the Coast is, therefore, a unique opportunity. We also want to demonstrate that intellectual endeavours with the potential for international impact can be conducted in such a collaborative, low impact fashion – and are worth doing for that reason.

Lena’s story

I was born and raised outside Göteborg in Sweden. I grew up on a large YMCA / YWCA Sailing Camp in Sweden where my father was the Camp Director for 25 years. After I finished University of Umeå (one year of studies of world Religions and three years of Elementary School Teacher Education) I decided to travel to the USA and work at a YMCA wilderness camp. I had a fantastic summer leading canoe expeditions in northern part of Wisconsin and in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Climbing was my big passion at the time so once camp was over I went climbing … the Rocky Mountains, the Cascades, Yosemite, Mount Lemon and Joshua Tree …three great months! During my climbing tour I met folks who worked for the National Outdoor Leadership School or had taken NOLS expeditions. (

Everyone spoke highly of NOLS and I got intrigued by the program. As much as I would have liked to stay I had to go back to Sweden again and put my University degree to work. I taught Elementary school for one semester in Gällivare (100 km north of the Arctic Circle) and then decided to call it quits and head back to the USA. I was going to camp for a living! I was accepted to the NOLS instructors course and have never regretted this move!

I took the NOLS Instructor course 1986. When I started to work for NOLS I thought of myself as a climber but I have only worked a couple of climbing courses and a hand full of back packing courses for NOLS. NOLS Mexico needed a sea kayaking instructor and I screamed pick me!!! Since 1986 I have lead Sea Kayaking courses in Alaska, Mexico and Chile.

Leading Sea Kayaking courses for NOLS gave me many ideas of how we could improve our program. The NOLS Alaska director gave me a chance to spear head the Sea Kayaking program. I was the first Sea Kayaking coordinator responsible for program development, curriculum, staff training and risk management. I worked full time for NOLS from 1986 to 1996.

In 1996 my husband Tim and I started our own business (Crossing Latitudes) and we have been leading kayaking trips in Sweden, Norway, Honduras, Greece, Greenland, Alaska and Croatia since then.

The last ten years I have taught Wilderness First Aid and First Responder courses for the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS ( I host and teach about 20 WMI courses a year in both the US and all over Europe. Teaching these courses is something I really enjoy.

I have so many great memories from leading Sea Kayaking expeditions around the world. One of the best is of course meeting my husband Tim (got married at Hatcher Pass in Alaska 1989). Other fun memories are forgetting the fuel on the Whittier train and having to cook on fires for 30 days in the rain on Prince William Sound Alaska, forgetting the instructor tent on the very next course, touching dolphins in the Sea of Cortez, getting to know Mexican fishermen and their family in Baja California, sharing meals with fishermen in Los Chonos Chile …

I am very excited about this expedition. To be asked by a group of known academics / scientists if I want to lead their expedition means a lot to me. Guiding Sea Kayaking expeditions for a living has been my life for 25 years.

This trip is not for NOLS, WMI or Crossing Latitudes … this is the first expedition I am taking part of where I am not receiving a paycheck. It feels great!

During this trip I will use all my technical skills, all my leadership skills, ability to communicate and teach, logistics skills – where would I be with out this so very important skill? I will use all the experience I have accumulated with NOLS and Crossing Latitudes the last 25 years. To guide a diverse group of women in a new environment will really put my skills to test. I am a bit scared but eager to take on  the challenge.

I am also an WEMT (Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician) but I hardly use my skills more than to teach WMI of NOLS Wilderness First Aid courses. Part of my job during the Hugging the Coast expedition is to take care of First Aid needs. This will help me to grow in my job as an WMI instructor.

My goal is to lead this expedition safely along this unknown archipelago. I see it as my job to make sure that not only do we cover the distance but that we do it good style. To ensure good Expedition Behavior, positive and ongoing communication will be my focus during the month out.

I said “yes” to the expedition because I love to explore, meet new people, grew as individual and push myself.

I also know that our project can contribute to better understanding of the planet: its’ cultures, people and environments. It is a Research expedition where social, cultural and environmental questions / issues in this “Amazon of the Sea” will be visited.

I hope to bring back a wealth of fun stories, new experiences, new friendships and a better understanding of Indonesia – an area I have never been to! Can it be more adventurous than this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>