For World Ocean Week we are sharing stories that highlight the connection humans have to the Ocean and the importance it has for the livelihoods of so many communities.

Haenyeo Tradition 

In South Korea, haenyeo, or "sea women", spend up to seven hours a day in the Ocean off the Geoje Island, harvesting seashells, conches, seaweed, sea cucumbers, and more to sell in local markets. While the tradition of diving for marine life is centuries old, most of the haenyeo have been practicing their trade for decades, from their teens to their 80s.

However, this time old tradition is under threat. These women rely on the Ocean for their livelihoods, and its future is uncertain due to Ocean warming, climate change and plastic pollution. Every year the waters are a little less icy - warming as much as 2.6 times more than the world average - changing the Ocean habitat.

One haenyeo said, "Now that I think about it, my health is not the only concern. I’m worried this job will change drastically or even disappear because of climate change."

Safeguarding the Ocean

Since 2011 the South Korean government has been working to reverse the Ocean desertification caused by climate change. One initiative being the Marine Forest Creation Project planting new seaweed, to help absorb carbon dioxide from the water, and removing the invasive sea urchins that eat the marine plant.

With less seaweed, which the haenyeo also harvest as food, the women must dive deeper. This is more physically challenging, further complicating their already dangerous jobs.

The haenyeo say the changes are becoming more pronounced every year, which is of particular concern for the dwindling number of young divers hoping to keep the tradition alive - and make enough to keep food on their own tables.

The Ocean supplies the air we breathe, regulates the Earth’s climate, and provides livelihoods for millions of communities around the world – we must protect it.

Photograph Credit: Mijoo Kim

Join the Ocean Generation

The Ocean Generation is coming together to restore a healthy relationship between humanity and the Ocean. Because as the first generation to understand ocean issues, we are also the last generation who can stop them. We are all the Ocean Generation. Join the movement. 

Sign up to our newsletter