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Eyes wide open

The Moken, a nomadic tribe of sea gypsies who live on the Surin Islands off the western coast of Thailand, survived the South Asian tsunami thanks to a low-tech 'early warning system' based on wisdom passed down through the generations. Elders urged the community of two hundred people to move to high land, recounting ancestral advice which warned of the sea disappearing and then returning with a terrible force.

The Moken have also attracted international attention for their extraordinarily developed underwater eyesight. Scientific studies have shown that the underwater eyesight of Moken children is more than 50% better than that of other children. It is believed that years of practice have enabled the Moken to see better out of necessity, helping them to hunt for fish and spot mussels on the sea bed. A Swedish scientist, Anna Gislen, has been conducting experiments in which she has tried to train European children to improve their underwater eyesight to a similar degree. After a gruelling 33-day training routine where the children were asked to focus on diagrams of parallel lines for hours each day until they could recognise ever thinner lines, she concluded that the Moken's outstanding ability to see under water was not genetic but attained through years of practice.
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