Published October 14, 2014

The Egg and the Rock

One South Korean village's fight against the Navy

<p class="p1"> The tiny, southern-most island of South Korea, Jeju, is known for&nbsp;three things, an old saying goes: Wind, rocks, and women.&nbsp;At first glance there is a timeless quality to life on the island. Traditions seem bound as much to the rhythms of the sea as to collective memory, social convention or economics.</p> <p class="p2"> Jeju was formed by a volcanic blast that left its once-molten signature everywhere. Waves crash tirelessly against jagged, black volcanic rock formations and alien-looking craters. The island boasts more UNESCO ecological reserves than anywhere else on the planet.</p> <p class="p2"> This is home to 18,000 goddesses, karaoke-singing tangerine farmers, deep-sea diving women known as haenyeo, and a long history of spirited island culture known for its comparatively matriarchal ways.</p> <p class="p1"> In particular, the 300-square mile island is famous for its deep-sea&nbsp;diving women, haenyeo, who&mdash;without the aid of scuba gear&mdash;submerge as&nbsp;deep as 150 feet and can hold their breath up to 2 minutes. Armed only&nbsp;with small knives and nets, these divers harvest abalone, octopus and&nbsp;sea snails from the ocean floor.&nbsp;In an age when artisanal and sustainable practices are making a&nbsp;comeback after decades of industrial fishing, interest in traditional&nbsp;haenyeo techniques is increasing. However, the numbers of haenyeo&nbsp;working have long been on the decline. There are fewer than 5,000&nbsp;women diving today, down from 20,000 just thirty years ago.</p> <p class="p1"> But perhaps the greatest threat to the haenyeo way of life is the naval base and cruise ship harbor that&rsquo;s being built on top of 450-year old Gangjeong village&mdash;a small farming community on the south side of the island.</p>