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Vanishing sea women.


Photographer: David Hogsholt

On the island of Jeju, south of the Korean peninsula, elderly women plunge into the cold sea, disappear for minutes and return to the surface with abalone, octopus, sea urchin, seaweed and shellfish. They are the Haenyo, the sea women. They make a living out of harvesting the sea floor, freediving to depths of 20 meters and holding their breath for minutes. 
But the Haenyo is an endangered species. In the 60’s the sea was abundant with them – around 30.000 of them would take to the sea almost daily. Today they hardly number 5000 and more than two-thirds are over 60 years old. With the increase in seafood exports to Japan in the 70’s, the Haenyo made more money than ever enabling them to put their daughters through college and with increased tourism on the islands the men, who local legend has it were too skinny to dive the cold waters, have found jobs as well. What is left is a generation of haenyos becoming old leaving no young girls to plunge into the waters after them.

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