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July Monthly Meeting Recap – Ama Divers

Living at the pace of the ocean

In July, FEW welcomed professor Anne McDonald from Sophia University to share the stories of Ama divers, female free divers of Japan, during the Monthly Meeting. McDonald has been researching the Ama communities by interviewing the members and taking part in their daily life – even diving into the ocean with them – for 12 years, making her the leading specialist in the area.

Ama free divers are fishing communities who are still catching abalone, oysters, and other sea creatures mostly without modern diving equipment like oxygen tanks. Both men and women dive, but when a woman dives, it’s her husbands job to stay on the boat and assist his wife’s expedition. The art of free diving is still passed down from mother to daughter and, with these skills, also the mindset of respecting the ocean is shared.

McDonald explained how the Ama communities live in an interdependent relationship with the ocean, self-regulating their fishing practices – type of fish and amount – seasonally to respect the balance of the ecosystem. They know that the fragile sea nature is not to be over-exploited by their activities – thus the decision not to use oxygen tanks, which would make diving and catching much more efficient.

The Ama lifestyle is indeed so tied to the ocean that they identify themselves through the sea. McDonald gave an example of this: even during their senior years Ama will go diving. One over 80-year-old Ama told her that, when she’s going to die, she will die with the ocean.

Perhaps this spirit of Amas and their ethical stance towards the ocean could give us hints on more sustainable lifestyles and well-being for ourselves and our society.


Were you at the July Monthly Meeting? Let us know how learning about the Ama affected you and if their ways led you to think more deeply about how you interact with the nature around you.

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