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Oh FAD It! Or, the SE Asian Marine Obstacle Course

By Behan Gifford @sailingtotem

There’s a special boater’s hell in Southeast Asia in the FAD minefields. FADs, or Fish Aggregating Devices, range from something just larger than a bathtub to football field sized platforms with living quarters on top.
fish aggregation
device This is the big daddy of fishing platforms- look for the guys on top for scale. Photo by sv Nalukai.
Most of what we’ve seen in Indonesia so far looks more like this.
A small FAD
Even the smallest are generally made up of a few drums lashed together, some styrofoam or other floatation, with a rebar rod or three on top. They would be devastating to hit at night. But they’re not lit, and they don't show up on radar, so doding them is a little tricky.
The really monstrous sized platforms are at least well lit. I suspect that’s part of the strategy, though- bringing fish in at night. They’ll show up on a radar, not that the Christmas-tree lighting helps them require any more distance identification.
In Cenderawasih Bay, just below where we anchor in Biak, these platforms have become interesting for another reason- they’re home to massive whale sharks. The sharks feed on smaller fish under the bagan. Thankfully they are considered good luck by the fishermen, and not threatened.
But the little FADs… these are more of a worry. Most of the FADs are near shore, which helps us avoid them, but they have no lights, they don’t show up on radar, and they would be nearly impossible to see at night. As we prepare to spend a couple of nights out on our passage to Sorong- it’s still something I worry about.

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