We humans are poorly adapted for underwater vision. However, the Moken peoples of south-east Asia manage to collect shells, clams and sea cucumbers using no visual aids when diving to a depth of 3 or 4 metres. Scientists from Lund University in Sweden have now measured the visual acuity of these children and have found that their ability to see well underwater is not a myth: their acuity in this environment is indeed superior to that of European children. The scientists have also found an explanation for this phenomenon.
The results are presented in the new issue of the prestigious scientific journal Current Biology. Anna Gislén and Marie Dacke from the Department of Cell and Organism Biology have travelled several times to the Surin Islands (Thailand) where the Moken tribe live. These people are the so-called sea-gypsies, who for thousands of years have lived on their boats and collected food from the ocean. Some of them have settled down in houses built on three metre high stilts by the shore. At high tide the Moken can dive directly into the water from their houses.
Gislén and Dacke have performed a series of visual tests on the Moken children. Using an experimental apparatus placed under the surface, the children viewed striped patterns that were presented either horizontally or vertically. By using thinner and thinner stripes they could determine the resolution limit of the children.
Göran Frankel | alfa
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