Michael Bonfigli is a Washington DC based photojournalist with over 20 years of experience photographing a wide range of topics around the world for magazines, NGOs, and commercial clients.
Raised by Argentine parents in a small town in Vermont, Michael's interest in photography and Latin American culture began with a family trip to Buenos Aires when he was a young boy. Michael was drawn to both the intensity of life in Buenos Aires and his uncle’s own photographs of the area.
After studying Art History and Politics at the University of Vermont and the University of Barcelona during college, Michael joined the Peace Corps to work with the Miskito Indians in the northern coast of Honduras. It was there that he started photographing what has become a long-term project exploring the ways the Miskito people react to their ever-changing environment and outside influences. After the Peace Corps, he received a Masters degree in education at Indiana University where he was influenced by his classmate, Magnum photographer Chien Chi Chang. After teaching for several years Michael started his career as a photographer at an internship with the prestigious Patuxent Publishing Company, followed by regular freelancing for the Washington Post.
Lobster diving came to the northern coast of Honduras and Nicaragua in the 1960s as American restaurant chains' demand for inexpensive lobster grew. For the buzos (lobster divers) of the 300 mile-long Miskito Coast, who routinely make 15 or 20 dives a day, the cost of the lobster industry is manifest in what they call the "golpe" or hit. Until recently, most Miskito divers took this to be a form of divine vengeance meted out by the Liwa Mairin, the Miskito word for Mermaid. Liwa, the goddess of the sea, is said to strike down divers who take too many lobsters, as commercial divers routinely do. Recently, however, while not renouncing Liwa's mystical powers, divers have come to call the golpe by more scientific names - decompression sickness (DCS), caisson disease - or simply the bends.
In an unregulated, high-volume situation like the Honduran-Nicaraguan lobster industry, DCS can reach epidemic proportions. According to a 1999 World Bank report, "close to 100 percent of divers show symptoms of neurological damage - due to inadequate decompression." Over the past decade, local sources say, more than 800 of the 2,500 divers in Sandy Bay (a Honduran Miskito town north of Puerto Cabezas) have died or suffered serious injuries. Adequate health care is seldom available to treat or care for those affected and their families are left without any form of support.