Korea’s Haenyeo Female Freedivers Brave Freezing Waters and a Changing Culture


A group of women walk along a seashore. The water’s cold, but they pull on their goggles, shrug into lead-weighted wet suits and wade in wearing flippers. They disappear beneath the water and embark on a free dive to the ocean floor, capturing sea urchins by hand. It’s winter on the tiny Korean island of Jeju, which means the sea urchins are plentiful. For hours, the women agilely and efficiently harvest sea creatures while the air above the waterline hovers around 30 degrees Fahrenheit (negative 1 degree Celsius). These are the haenyeo — the “sea women” of South Korea. And they are a dying breed.

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