There is a common language of the sea and those living on the coast.

“There are more similarities between all the coastal people than there is between the land people and the sea people.”

Maria Lucia De Nicolo, Pesaro, Italy


Having watched the great schooners disappear from the horizon, in 1938 Alan Villiers, famed explorer and mariner, set out from Kuwait upon an Omani Dhow headed for Zanzibar and back up to northern most Oman.

When Villiers set out on his historic voyage, the world had just begun its long march towards globalisation. The supplanting of engines over sails made distances shorter and deep sea navigation easier, connecting trade, culture and civilisations like never before.

80 years later, we are experiencing in a universal fashion the consequences of global economies coupled with the impact on our unique identities, societal values and marine biosphere.

Fish stocks around the globe are almost depleted as traditional fishermen have been forced to replace sustainable practices with modern, destructive fishing techniques. Global warming first impacts coastal and island communities: sea level rise, violent storms and species extinction, as well as spiralling coastal development in shipping, tourism and population expansion.

The loss of generations of ecological knowledge and cultural practices that inform and cohere communities is accelerating. People of all walks of life living on and by the sea are affected, and their voices need to be heard. In 2010, the RV Heraclitus and Ecotechnics began the Lives and Legends of the Mediterrean Sea project documenting the living culture and heritage of the peoples of the Mediterranean coast.

The Research Vessel Heraclitus Sea People Expedition

HERACLITUS, the Institute of Ecotechnics research ship, has sailed the seas for forty years, travelled 270,000 nautical miles, sailed all the world’s oceans except the Arctic, and staged twelve epic expeditions. It has been nautical home to hundreds of seafarers, young and old, from fifty countries.

In 2010, the Research Vessel Heraclitus and Ecotechnics began the Mediterranean Oral History project documenting contemporary stories of the peoples of the Mediterranean coast. In 2013, Mark Abouzeid’s Cedars Productions joined the effort directly and in parallel with its projects in Northern Africa and Eastern Mediterranean Cultures. The 2010-16 expedition, Lives and Legends of the Mediterranean Sea, was accomplished in collaboration with Dedalo, Museo Etnologico de Valencia and Library of Alexandria.

Oral histories have been captured in Spain, France, Italy, Corsica, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Israel, and Lebanon with more than 150 interviews. The work continues, to date, and is expanding to other sea people in the Red Sea and, ultimately, all seas.

Based on the writings of anthropologist Marcel Mauss, the expedition’s goal has been to understand the contract between man and the sea which has remained inviable since the dawn of time, now broken. Like any contract, the consequences of breaking it are not one sided but are being felt by both parties…the sea first and now man.

Currently, Real Lives has partnered with Ecotechnics Marine, RV Heraclitus and others to realize the next step of the project: a living library to transmit this knowledge and its lessons to the future before it is lost entirely.

Project Components

Archiving & Transcription: Capture, organise and prepare as many of the oral history interviews as possible to provide a structured archive of the complete interviews, key insights and b-roll for future use.

Living Library: An organised archive will provide ready films for promotion, exhibits and events; as well as uncut transcribed digital media for Ecotechnics, academics or other collaborators to utilise and disseminate the immense amount of information/knowledge.

“The Gift” transdisciplinary exhibit/performance: The oral history work will result in an exhibition, called The Gift, about the cycle of reciprocity between human culture and the sea. Designed to be fluid like the seas it represents, The Gift will be realised as a traveling event based on video interviews, photographic art collection, narrative performance and artefact objects from the Oral History Living Library.

The Sea People film series: Real Lives will produce an 6 part web series, The Sea Peoples, with each 20 minute episode focusing on one aspect of coastal cultures: the Fishermen, the Mariners, the Boatmakers, the Women, the Community, & the Legends. The first episode will air in January of 2020.

2020 Planet Water Expedition: Real Lives has realized a short film to promote the work of the Heraclitus, draw attention to the breadth of oral histories collected and raise funding for the next expedition, the 2020 Planet Water Expedition, exploring and documenting People on the Edge: those who live on and by the sea.

Project Start: March 2019
Project End: June 2020

Project Partners: