Off the coast of South Korea lies the picturesque Jeju Island: a sought-after travel destination owing to its combination of picture-perfect beaches and striking volcanic landscapes. Away from the sun worshippers, within the depths of the East China Sea, there is a rare sight that few tourists are aware of: the haenyo–– or “sea women.” These groups of local women, whose expert trade is to scour the seabed for edible delicacies, must train to hold their breath for up to three minutes and dive as far as 15 meters to reach the ocean’s floor. Once down there, they hack abalone (edible snails) from rocks and pluck as many sea urchins as will fit into their nets. Continuing a decades-long custom, their catch is then sold to local fisheries and restaurants. Today, we present a photographic tribute to these inspiring women by photographer David Høgsholt
, who spent a month total with them. Even though Høgsholt learned to freedive for the project, at times Høgsholt could not keep up with the women, and recalls one occasion when, feeling fatigued after four hours in the midst of the sea, one sympathetic diver cracked open a live sea urchin to feed him. Robust as these indefatigable women are, their community is dwindling due to a rapidly changing economy. Increasingly, the daughters of these skilled divers are choosing to opt out of the trade, preferring instead to gain an education and pursue opportunities brought by the thriving tourism industry. Subsequently, the majority of haenyo are now over 50 years strong––and retirement is yet a long way off.