Filmmaker & Cave Diver Jill Heinerth

In episode twenty five, host Brett Stanley is talking to underwater filmmaker and cave diver Jill Heinerth.

Jill is an amazing woman who’s explorations have taken her to places no person has ever seen before, including the caves inside icebergs. We talk about her career underwater, how she controls her own fears, and what it’s like filming documentaries and consulting on feature films.

In To The Planet is Jills firsthand account of exploring the earth’s final frontier: the hidden depths of our oceans and the sunken caves inside our planet.

Follow: Website, Instagram, Facebook

Discuss the episode in our facebook group.

Donate to the podcast.

About Jill Heinerth – Filmmaker & Cave Diver

JILL HEINERTH is an underwater explorer, writer, photographer, speaker, and filmmaker. A pioneer of technical rebreather diving, she has led expeditions into icebergs in Antarctica, volcanic lava tubes and submerged caves around the world. Jill is the first Explorer-in-Residence of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

Her book, INTO THE PLANET, has been lauded by the Wall Street Journal, Oprah Magazine, and the New York Times. Jill is a Fellow of the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, Underwater Academy of Arts and Sciences, Women Divers Hall of Fame, National Speleological Society, and the Explorers Club which awarded her with the William Beebe Award.

Podcast Transcript

Ep 25 – Jill Heinerth

Brett Stanley: [00:00:00] welcome back to the underwater podcast. And this week we’re going way outside my comfort zone, talking to the underwater filmmaker and cave diver Jill Hein earth. jill is an amazing woman Who’s explorations of taking it to places no person has ever seen before including caves inside icebergs we talk about her career underwater how she controls her own fears and what it’s like filming documentaries and consulting on feature films All right. Now remember to breathe and let’s dive in Jill welcome to the podcast.

Jill Heinerth: [00:00:29] Oh, thanks for having me.

Brett Stanley: [00:00:30] How are you? How’s how’s things up in Ottawa.

Jill Heinerth: [00:00:33] Oh, good, good. It’s um, terribly hot today, but, uh, I should, uh, enjoy that now. Cause I’ll, uh, uh, be wishing for that in the winter.

Brett Stanley: [00:00:40] Cause it gets pretty cold up there. Right?

Jill Heinerth: [00:00:43] Oh yeah. Yeah. Minus forties. Not, uh, not unusual in our winter.

Brett Stanley: [00:00:46] Okay. So you got your dry suit on, in the winter.

Jill Heinerth: [00:00:49] Oh, yeah. I have my dry suit on, in the summer here.

Brett Stanley: [00:00:52] on. I just met around the house,

Jill Heinerth: [00:00:54] Oh yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:00:56] Hey, I was kind of telling you beforehand, but, but I just want to reenter right now that I because you’re, you’re a cave diver. And prepping for this interview. it was really emotional for me. It was a, it was a roller coaster of, of excitement and interest and also fear and, You must get that a lot from people when they’re talking to you about

Jill Heinerth: [00:01:16] Oh

Brett Stanley: [00:01:16] do you even do this?

Jill Heinerth: [00:01:17] Oh, yeah. Especially my mom. Oh my gosh. Yeah. My mom has been to some of my presentations and, and uh, uh, when she does, she sits in the back of the room, just sort of clutching her purse with the color draining from her face. But yeah, what I do scares people.

Brett Stanley: [00:01:32] It’s incredible. does do, I guess it’s worse to be a mum because she’s your mum and picturing you doing these things, um, would be freaking her out.

Jill Heinerth: [00:01:40] Well, it’s hard for her to picture. I mean, it’s such an abstract world, swimming through Waterfield passages beneath your feet is like something that some people have never even considered, could be done. And so it was completely foreign to my family. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:01:56] Oh, I bet. Yeah. I mean, for me, like I grew up, caving and abseiling and doing all sorts of fun stuff. And so I know what the inside of caves are like, and I know what, what. The sort of techniques you need to get through caves, like going through squeezes and inching your way up chimneys and all that sort of stuff.

But to then do that underwater with a mask and a regulator on, and not really being able to communicate very well with your, with your team and then whoever else is with you, that just takes it to another level for me.

Jill Heinerth: [00:02:26] You know, it’s funny and this’ll be surprising to you, but I am more comfortable in a cave underwater than I am in a dry cave.

Brett Stanley: [00:02:35] I was going to ask you

Jill Heinerth: [00:02:36] Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:02:38] what’s the difference for you? Why does one make you feel more comfortable than the other.

Jill Heinerth: [00:02:42] Uh, you know, the absence of gravity underwater that makes me feel so free, like to be able to move without effort in three dimensions, um, with all my, you know, life support with me, like I, I remember dry caving as a kid and squeezing through this little slot.

In, in a tight spot where you have to just kind of exhale to, to get through and somebody made a comment about, Oh, wouldn’t it be awful if the rock shifted on you right now? And I kind of thought, Oh, and that made me feel terribly claustrophobic. And I don’t feel claustrophobic underwater in a cave. It’s it’s just my element.

Brett Stanley: [00:03:20] that’s so interesting. So you’d say it’s just the, the, the amazing feeling and the surrealness of it trumps the. The fear of it.

Jill Heinerth: [00:03:29] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I’m, it’s not that I’m not afraid and I’m definitely afraid, but, um, but fear is, is, is important. I mean, it’s important to dive with people who are also afraid because it means that we, you know, we care about the outcome. We have an understanding of risk and, uh, and that’s all good.

Brett Stanley: [00:03:46] Yeah. I think there’s, there’s definitely a thing where some people can have. Have no fear. And then they, they don’t have the warning signs. They don’t, they’re not looking for things to go wrong. how does that work for you? Like, is there a point where you kind of get, I feel like fear is a sliding scale. And you can start off being scared and cautious and maybe a little anxious. And then there’s fear where your starting to possibly lose control of your mind, or your willpower,

Jill Heinerth: [00:04:13] yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:04:13] how far along that scale do you end up getting.

Jill Heinerth: [00:04:16] Well, I mean, there’s sort of two stages before I get in the water am afraid of, of. You know, things that could go wrong. And so I, so I worked through that list to, um, convince myself really that I have the tools and the skills and the ability to handle anything that could go wrong specifically. Like step-by-step like, I rehearse these things.

So when I get in the water, I’m not afraid anymore. I’m comfortable and confident, but still you can have. We have major emergencies happen. And you know, if you’re stuck in an underwater cave and, and suddenly you can’t see, and your guideline is broken, then the first thing that’s going to happen is your heart rate is going to go through the roof and you’re going to start to breathe fast and, and your head kind of explodes in these chattering monkeys.

Um, but at that point, I guess I have. Almost like a Zen like ability just to take deep breath and clear all of them way and tell myself that the emotional are, are not going to be helpful right now. And I can push them aside and just be pragmatic. Um, Because like, I can’t breathe fast. I can’t let my heart rate go.

I can’t let my mind runaway, um, or I’ll die, you know, it’s, it’s that simple. So I’ve learned through practice, um, really to set those aside and then just focus on one small step towards success and survival at a time.

Brett Stanley: [00:05:40] And so you’ve just got to build this foundation of, of almost techniques of how to keep yourself.

Jill Heinerth: [00:05:45] Yeah. Yeah. I mean the first time that. Anyone has a terrifying experience of any sort. It, it can result in, in just panic, you know, but, but each time you have another one of these experiences and you’ve learned how to deal with them, you get better and better, so it can be trained. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:06:05] The thing. So I think for me, and we’ve jumped into this kind of the fee part of this a lot quicker than us that was hoping to, um, but the thing for me that, that that happened was, you know, I loved caving. I loved kind of crawling through these spaces and exploring them and then, and then coming at the end of the cave and going, Oh, wow, that was incredible.

Like did that. I remember vividly the day claustrophobia hit me. I was going through a squeeze that ended up sort of heading downhill and for some stupid reason, I’d gone through with my arms at my side.

Jill Heinerth: [00:06:35] Hmm.

Brett Stanley: [00:06:36] and so I was wider than I should have been. And then I got stuck by my shoulders upside down in this kind of chimney sort of style, um, hanging upside down, looking down into a pile of dirt.

And that was at that point where I just realized that I. I lost it, but that’s where my fear kicked in. And I was not the same after that. I couldn’t do it anymore because I kept thinking back to that,

Jill Heinerth: [00:07:00] sure. Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:07:02] have you ever had that kind of situation or did you, did you, like you say, you just kept practicing and learning that you didn’t die, so it’s not a

Jill Heinerth: [00:07:10] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, when I look back on earlier experiences in life, not necessarily even cave diving, but, uh, but I didn’t, you know, deal with them as well as I do now. Um, so like I say, is that, is that practice? I mean, certainly we all carry, you know, the, the stress or the PTSD from situations like the one that you just described and it’s hard to shake that and I I’ve had to.

You know, go through those kinds of situations mentally afterwards, over and yeah. Over and over again. What happened? Why did it happen? Why did, what could I have done differently? And so. I take those experiences then as gifts really? And I say, okay, this won’t happen to me again because I’ll never go down a hole like that with my arms at my side.

Yeah. So I’ve learned, so that’s discovery learning. It’s no longer a failure. It’s no longer a trauma. It’s no longer claustrophobia. It’s discovery. It’s like, Oh yeah. Okay. It was scary, but I survived it and I learned that next time I’ll do better. Um, So, I guess it’s just an acceptance that all of these horrible things in life that happened before I can’t change them.

I can’t change, you know, the trauma that I felt then, but I can change what I do with that experience in the future. And, um, move forward with that discovery.

Brett Stanley: [00:08:29] That’s beautiful. So you’re, you’re, you’re basically as much as you’re a cave diver, because you’re into discovery. You’re discovering your yourself your own psyche.

Jill Heinerth: [00:08:37] Oh yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:08:39] as well.

Jill Heinerth: [00:08:40] which is kind of handy in these weird times we’re living in right now.

Brett Stanley: [00:08:43] Yeah.

Jill Heinerth: [00:08:44] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:08:44] I mean, yeah. I mean, I feel like a lot of the times we’re actually like currently diving solo at home, you know, like where we’re a drift in our own little, in our own little cave system maybe. And they

Jill Heinerth: [00:08:54] yeah. Or. In the more positive sense. We are all explorers in a brand new world, you know, where every day we’re learning new things about ourselves and how to move forward more safely in this, this new world. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:09:09] Yeah. And luckily we’ve all got the internet so we can share these experiences. not like we’re doing this in the nineties where we had, you know, we had nothing.

Jill Heinerth: [00:09:18] yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:09:19] So there’s this awesome quote, that’s on your website. And I just want to kind of read it out so people can get an idea of, of, of who you are and what your kind of life has meant to this point. And it’s from director James Cameron, and he says more people have walked on the moon than have been to some places  has gone to right here on earth. Now that statement is incredible because thinking that you’ve been. To places that maybe only one or two other people have ever been

Jill Heinerth: [00:09:47] Or nobody. Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:09:50] person in there. How does that feel to you? Like hearing that kind of statement now that you’ve, you know, you’ve had an entire career to this point.

Jill Heinerth: [00:09:57] Oh, I mean, I still pinch myself every day. I have these amazing opportunities, you know, as a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, but, but really what it was is just a desire for exploration and to have the opportunity to go to places and see things and bring back documentation and science from places that nobody else.

On this planet has ever set eyes on is, is amazing. I I’m so fortunate and, uh, I love what I do.

Brett Stanley: [00:10:25] That’s it’s a, it’s an incredible, um, kind of career it at an end. It is a job, you know, at the end of the day, but it’s also a love for you, I guess, as well.

Jill Heinerth: [00:10:33] Yeah. Yeah. I think I’m incredibly fortunate to have found a way to turn my passion into, into my career. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:10:43] So, so tell me, how did you get into this? How did you go from another, someone living in Canada, uh, to cave diving all over the world?

Jill Heinerth: [00:10:54] Well, some people would say I’m a 30 plus year overnight success because yeah, I mean, my, my. University education is in fine. Arts is I have a degree in visual communications design, a bachelor of fine arts and, um, A lot of people think I’m a scientist, but I’m really a citizen scientist. And every project gives me, gives me an opportunity to explore some new area and collaborate with some new scientists.

So it’s, it’s, it’s really interesting to me cause I think there’s so many fantastic opportunities when you can put together a, you know, a right brain and a left brain and, uh, and explore the world. Yeah. Um, But I, as soon as I started diving in, in university, I, uh, I knew this was the thing. I was always a water baby.

I always wanted to dive, but I, I didn’t really have the funding or the knowhow in terms of. You know, I didn’t even know what to do to take a scuba class until I was in university. Um, but once I did it, there was sort of no turning back instantly. I knew that was my element. This was something I was going to be good at and, uh, started plotting away to, uh, turn my, you know, drafting table into a, uh, into a way to be creative underwater.

Brett Stanley: [00:12:12] And so what was the next step there from, from, I guess, running a, having a career as a graphic designer to then.

Jill Heinerth: [00:12:18] Yeah, I sold everything, sold everything. I owned, quit my job. If you’d like sold my business and moved to the Cayman islands and, uh, started improving my ability as a diver and, uh, and working on my skills as a, as a photographer. I mean, at the time we were, we were shooting film cameras, underwater, and, uh, and.

So that’s how I cut my teeth and started writing articles and submitting them to magazines and then sort of broke into the expeditionary world and volunteered and met scientists and engineers and just plotted my way forward. Stop at a dime.

Brett Stanley: [00:12:58] Yeah, it’s quite beautiful. The kind of path you’ve taken and with your, with your creative side, with the photography, was that something that was, was that you had done before on, on dry land or was it. Photography new to you underwater

Jill Heinerth: [00:13:11] Yeah, it was always, you know, interested in photography. And funny enough, I only took one class in photography in university. Um, so it was not my specialty by. By any means, but I’m sort of grateful looking, looking back on that for, for introducing me to dark rooms and all the basic skills that still apply today when you’re Photoshopping an image.

Um, but, uh, I was completely self-taught underwater because as soon as you take a camera system underwater, especially a film camera, it’s it’s uh, all bets are off. Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:13:45] on, was it the Nikkonos

Jill Heinerth: [00:13:47] Yeah, I was. Yeah, but you know, back in the day, when you can’t see what you shot until you’ve taken your film in and gotten it processed, it’s a, it’s a whole different ball game.

It was more technical really back then, um, than it, than it is today. I mean, you know, now cameras are so advanced, uh, there’s so much you can do with something that’s fully automatic, but, um, But still, I would argue that the, uh, that the real creativity and, uh, customization is in the hands of the professional who really understands what they’re, what they’re capturing.

Brett Stanley: [00:14:17] Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And especially with film, cause you, you don’t get instant feedback, you can adjust your settings. You

Jill Heinerth: [00:14:23] Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:14:24] hope that you’ve done the right thing

Jill Heinerth: [00:14:26] Yeah. I mean, I remember those days and in university, in that one photo class that I took, you know, how am I going to get money for the next box of paper that I need? Or the next spool of film? Yeah, yeah,

Brett Stanley: [00:14:38] Yeah. It’s not just dumping a bunch of photos onto the laptop and going okay, well next time.

Jill Heinerth: [00:14:43] yeah. Next step. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:14:44] it up, you’d wasted money.

Jill Heinerth: [00:14:46] Yeah. It’s like, Oh, I got two more shifts at the bar before I can afford a box. A hundred sheets of paper. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:14:51] So what sort of stuff were you shooting at at the beginning? Was it just personal stuff? Like just as you were, as you were diving or was, was there some sort of client relationship involved there?

Jill Heinerth: [00:15:01] uh, I mean, really, I just started shooting on my own, just, you know, looking at light, looking for the beauty and, and everybody who’s a new photographer. Underwater starts like a species collection, you know, it’s like, Oh, I want to shoot a trumpet fish. Oh, I want to shoot a shark. Oh, I need a shot of a turtle.

Um, but you, you end up chasing around a lot of. Animals and getting butt shots of everything that’s running away from you. Yeah.

Sort of phase two is coming to the realization that, you know, I should just shoot whatever wants to cooperate with me. And I should just be patient and work at. Something, you know, whether it’s a coral or whether it’s a, whether it’s shark photography, but I should just be patient and plot away and understand this thing and how it behaves.

And, yeah, so there’s, there’s all these different, different phases in photography. And then I eventually just started shooting to, uh, you know, support the articles I was writing for magazines.

Brett Stanley: [00:15:52] What were those articles? Were they, um,

Jill Heinerth: [00:15:54] Some were travel and some were, um, you know, creature focused, um, some were new environments and exploration and, you know, slowly started doing more sort of narrative stories about unique experiences and explorations underwater.

Brett Stanley: [00:16:09] So travel log kind of style things

Jill Heinerth: [00:16:12] No.

Brett Stanley: [00:16:12] yeah. Well, how did that end up sort of happening? Was, were you just submitting randomly to magazines or did you end up getting

Jill Heinerth: [00:16:19] Yeah. Yeah. And you know, it’s still that way today. I’m just still throwing spaghetti at the wall in many ways, you know, you know, I write, I photograph, I do, you know, underwater cinematography and, and some things are, are, you know, my own projects and others are, um, you know, commissions from. People that reach out and contact me.

Brett Stanley: [00:16:40] Yeah. And so what’s your, what are your commissions like these days? I mean, looking through your kind of, um, You kind of work, you’ve done a lot of different stuff with a lot of different outlets. What sort of things, just talk us through those, how you got into sort of doing stuff for Nat geo and, and discovery and BBC and stuff.

Jill Heinerth: [00:16:59] Yeah. I mean more often than not, I’m coming up with the ideas and pitching the stories and trying to get, um, someone interested in, in, uh, supporting the expedition. And, uh, and then, you know, what other times people reach out to me as well. I just, just today, um, you know, red, red bull is releasing, uh, both, both articles and, and a short film that, uh, That I provided all the footage for, so

Brett Stanley: [00:17:24] so I guess, rather than you being hired to shoot some footage for a documentary, are you more making the expedition and then trying to basically sell that the documentary that you’re making or that you’re involved in?

Jill Heinerth: [00:17:36] Yeah. A little bit of both. Yeah. Uh, I mean, sometimes I, I apply for grants for the logistics portion of expeditions, like to someone like Nat geo and then they basically have a first right of refusal and a one year lock on anything. I shoot. And then after, you know, a year, if they’re not doing anything with it, Uh, all the rights revert to me and I, uh, I can either, you know, create my own film or write articles or, uh, or whatever.

It’s kind of interesting. I mean, when I went to, I first started down this path, I mean, so much, so much has changed from, from being in university and, and, uh, You know, in order to create a graphic design, we didn’t have computer design. We would send out for liner type, you know, to, to where we are today it’s changed.

But the filmmaking world has changed to where, um, there used to be a very small, um, You know, upper echelon of, of commissioners basically that you had to get attention from, but there was a lot more money and fewer, fewer distribution outlets. I mean, now everyone’s a filmmaker. I mean, you don’t need anybody’s permission.

You don’t need anyone’s commission. You can have your own YouTube channel and, and start there. Um, so the gatekeepers are gone in that. In that regard, but so has the funding also been diluted? So it requires you to be a little bit more, you know, inventive with how you can put food on the table. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:19:00] more spaghetti at the wall

Jill Heinerth: [00:19:01] Yeah, and different, you know, different types of spaghetti, I guess, too.

I mean, that’s why I, that’s why I’m writing and photographing and, and, you know, shooting for TV and, and, um, you know, consulting for life support technologies and on and on and on public speaking, everything that, anything that will keep me underwater.

Brett Stanley: [00:19:22] I think that’s the thing, isn’t it? When you, when you do go into such a, kind of a niche industry or a niche kind of category, you do have to really diversify. The the ways you, you kind of use that when you’re in the Cayman, when you started in the Cayman islands, what was your path from there to then actually getting into the sort of documentary world?

Jill Heinerth: [00:19:41] well, slow, I guess. I mean, back then there were, um, Yeah, there were photo editors and full time photographers on magazine staff that, that were just being sent around the world to get diving stories and everything else. So it was different than to break into that was incredibly difficult. Um, and so it was slow.

I just kept submitting articles and, and kept sending in photography. Um, But, but it’s different now. I mean, I think ultimately if I, if I had to look at one thing that kind of changed the trajectory for me, it was, it was volunteering. So, um, You know, I don’t think that you should give away your work. Cause if you give away all your work, then it’s worth absolutely nothing.

If people know they can get it for free, then they’re not going to want to pay for it. Um, but when you, when you find creative ways to volunteer, to get yourself onto a project or something like that, and then, you know, retain the rights over. Your, your goods, your assets, then, then there’s a lot more that you can do with that.

Um, I mean, ultimately, you know, creating assets that continue deliver over time, whether that’s stock or, or, or ideas or experiences, um, that’s where your unique value lies that nobody has has. And so, um, it’s just a constant rework of how you can put those out into the world and turn them into value.

Brett Stanley: [00:21:07] So I’ve, I have been reading a book, um, into the planet. Um, and again, it’s very triggering for me. Um, so I can only read a few chapters at a time before I’ve got to like walk away and calm down. Um, but in there there’s a, there’s an awesome, awesome point where you’re. Um, I, I think you end up volunteering to do an expedition into the Florida Springs start mapping that w from memory that seemed like that was your introduction to, to kind of cave diving exploration.

Is that right?

Jill Heinerth: [00:21:34] uh, well, my first, um, big expedition was back in 1995. Um, with you it’s USDA caving team down in central Mexico, um, where we were working to explore the, what we thought would be the world’s deepest vertical cave system. Um, so that was really where I kind of. Kicked open the doorway and met people that I continue to work with today.

Yeah. Um, but, uh, but that did it also convinced me to move to Florida where we have this very high concentration of underwater caves that, uh, that I would continue to explore and, uh, work in for about 20 years before I returned full time to Canada.

Brett Stanley: [00:22:10] What was your experience of the first time you had gone in, into a cave and where. We’re mapping it. Like what, what was the first experience of, uh, uh, of treading like maybe one of the first kind of lines through a cave system?

Jill Heinerth: [00:22:24] yeah. And that, I guess I’m trying to think back, but yeah, probably the first sort of major exploration was that, that project in Mexico. And, um, you know, when you get to the, what we call the bitter end of a line where we run a continuous guideline through a cave system one, so that we have a. Tactile reference that we can follow to get out of the cave.

If we lose the visibility, which is it’s not uncommon, it can easily happen in an underwater cave. Um, but two, we use that as a, as a name navigation reference, and that’s what we, uh, will measure. Um, both distance and direction on in order to map a cave system. So when you get to the bitter end of a guideline, like you swim and swim and swim along this continuous guideline, and then it stops and you look up and you’re looking into the blackness and you think there’s a way to continue onward.

You tie on a spool, a reel, basically. And then you set off into a place where, you know, nobody has been before, uh, the feeling is this out of this world. It’s so exciting. You really have to almost camped down the excitement, uh, in that moment.

Brett Stanley: [00:23:32] that, that sounds incredible. How are you mapping? Like, are you kind of doing something that’s very scientific or are you in there in kind, they’re kind of just kind of excitedly wandering around.

Jill Heinerth: [00:23:43] no, uh, uh, you’re very carefully, um, using a compass and a fiberglass tape or, or guideline that’s nodded in, um, in increments. So that. So that you can count the distance on the guidelines. So it’s, it’s a very slow, methodical process. That’s the traditional way. And, and I’ve worked with, uh, engineers and scientists who are trying to make better, more accurate, uh, mapping technologies.

And, um, one in particular, I’ve, I’ve worked with dr. Bill stone since, since the mid nineties. Uh, and he has. Developed mapping systems that are now artificially intelligent robots that we can set loose in the cave and they can swim on their own, make choices about moving left or right. And map the cave in three dimensions with unbelievable accuracy.

So that technology exists now it’s not affordable or deployable for most of us, but, um, but that’s where we’re headed.

Brett Stanley: [00:24:38] So that’s like, like a releasing a, like an underwater Roomba to kind

Jill Heinerth: [00:24:42] kind of, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s amazing to watch it. Think like I have frequently been in the position of, of filming this map or through its development over the last 25 years and to sit in a cave and watch. Something, that’s not tethered to the surface, this, this entity thinking for itself and it’ll get to a pillar and it’ll kind of rotate and spin around and make a decision to go left or right.

And that it’ll go right. And I’ll say, gosh, I would have gone left. What made this artificial brain go? Right. You know, it’s, it’s fascinating.

Brett Stanley: [00:25:20] does it, I mean, there’s so many obstacles in a cave. It’s not like a corridor or like I said, like a room, but it’s not like it’s mapping your house, which is all square it in lines. Like there’s so many obstacles in there.

Jill Heinerth: [00:25:30] Yeah,

Brett Stanley: [00:25:30] does it ever get caught? Does it ever get stuck? Do you ever lose one?

Jill Heinerth: [00:25:34] well, that’s, that’s all part of this whole development process that, that, uh, that I’ve been very fortunate to watch over the years. I mean, the first one, um, we had a tether on it so that we could, we could oversee what it was watching. We couldn’t send it commands, but we were watching it from top side while I was in the cave and the engineers were top side.

Um, and. At times would sort of burrow into something that was too small and start stirring up the silt with its thrusters. And then it became clear that it was stuck. And so the software engineers go, okay, well, how can we teach it to avoid this obstacle or this type of obstacle and, and, uh, and slowly but surely as they reprogrammed it over the years, it’s now independently, you know, going off and fetching gave maps and freaking them back.

Brett Stanley: [00:26:19] that’s incredible.

Jill Heinerth: [00:26:20] Yeah, it’s amazing to watch. And, and, and its ultimate mission is, is not just to explore the inaccessible places on planet earth, but to go to Jupiter’s moon Europa and explore the liquid ocean underneath the ice there.

Brett Stanley: [00:26:34] Well, I think that that’s a fascinating thing, is that a lot of the work that you’re doing under the ground under the water is very similar to stuff you would be doing, you know, and technology wise that you’d be using either in space or like you say, on other planets.

Jill Heinerth: [00:26:47] Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:26:49] kind of, are you part of that kind of, um, I don’t know, research into those sorts of development.

Jill Heinerth: [00:26:54] Yeah, I I’ve been a test pilot for, uh, life support technologies that are not just for use underwater, but are, are analogs for, um, you know, what could be used for a spacewalk for instance. Um, and, and then, you know, this device as well as, you know, Dustin for space. So, uh, diving is often used, um, by astronauts and space researchers as, as an environment.

That has so many similarities that can teach them about existing in space, moving in space or deploying technologies in space, but also, um, I’ve worked with astrobiologists who are interested in the life within, because it’s the most like the primordial soup that, you know, served as the, the earliest sources of, of life on earth and might be a great analog for what we would find in space.

Brett Stanley: [00:27:42] I guess, cause they’re, they’re sort of low light situations or no light situations and probably, you know, low nutrient, I guess that the life in there must be very,

Jill Heinerth: [00:27:52] resilient. Yeah, well, not necessarily simple, but very resilient. I mean, we have, you know, everybody’s familiar with, uh, with a crayfish, you know, that they see in a river, but we have uniquely cave adopted crayfish. I have no eyes and no pigments, so they’re, they’re white, transparent looking. Um, and they live about a hundred times longer than.

A crayfish that live in rivers. So in this very food scarce, difficult dark, you know, no light environment, um, they have somehow adapted to be much more successful than the crayfish that are living out in the light. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:28:31] that’s incredible that they’ve made the most of such so little, I

Jill Heinerth: [00:28:35] Yep. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:28:36] Um, and that brings up another, uh, adventure that I know you’re a part of, which was, um, and I don’t know if it was mapping or just exploring the insides of icebergs.

Jill Heinerth: [00:28:45] yeah. Well, um, back in 2000, the largest iceberg in recorded history, calved away from the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica. And so my two colleagues and I pitched to national geographic to be the first people to ever cave, dive inside an iceberg. And, you know, back in 2000, we were just. Barely starting to talk about global climate change.

And yet we wondered, you know, was this huge piece of ice, some, you know, Sentinel what was to come? Um, yeah, so we, we went from New Zealand to Antarctica, which is a 12 day sea crossing in the worst season of the planet, um, to go intercept this iceberg and be the first people to both explore and bring back images from inside an iceberg.

Brett Stanley: [00:29:34] So how big an iceberg are we talking?

Jill Heinerth: [00:29:36] It was the size of Jamaica.

Brett Stanley: [00:29:37] Okay. So yeah.

Jill Heinerth: [00:29:39] It’s pretty big. In fact, just last summer, the very last parts of it finally broke up and disappeared back into the ocean. So 20 years, yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:29:49] And so what was the, what was it like, did, did you know that there was going to be crevices and cracks that you would be able to get into? Or were you just kind of hopeful that that was going to happen,

Jill Heinerth: [00:29:57] well, we gave a really convincing pitch to national geographic, but the truth is that it was all a hypothesis.

Brett Stanley: [00:30:03] right? Yeah.

Jill Heinerth: [00:30:04] I mean, we had watched. The cracks, developing in the ice shelf over time and satellite images I’m online. And so in my mind I was thinking, wow, this is just like limestone. I mean, cracks, develop.

And then, and then water exploits, those cracks and enlarges them. So, so. Surely, this must work like limestone, surely, you know, currents and the motion of water under water must, you know, carb the spaces. And, uh, so we, you know, went in there just full of bluster and a pitch to NatGeo and they went, wow. Well, that sounds amazing.

Amazing. Um, but frankly, like we didn’t know until we got there, what we were going to find. Well, uh, just an amazing, amazing new world. It was, it was 30 days before I felt like we were finally in a real cave system. You know, we’d gone in all these little caverns and crevices and overhead environments.

Then we found these massive long conduits, you know, through the ice and places where the iceberg was stuck on the sea floor, where you could swim under the iceberg in tunnels. And, um, it was hauntingly beautiful, unbelievable. I mean, some of the deeper areas where we’re completely, um, black, you know, just like an underwater cave, but, you know, turn on the light and there, and there was a life within these spaces and, uh, Uh, just what I consider to be closer to, you know, going to another planet than anything I’ve ever seen on earth.

Brett Stanley: [00:31:38] That’s incredible. you think you’d ever like to get on another planet and do this, like on Mars?

Jill Heinerth: [00:31:43] Oh, yeah. I don’t think my husband would be too thrilled about it.

Brett Stanley: [00:31:46] Is he a diver?

Jill Heinerth: [00:31:47] Oh, he is certified, but it’s just not his thing. So, you know, he’s got about 20 dives under his belt, but I don’t think that he’ll ever dive again. Uh, but yeah. I mean, if someone said, would you like to go to space? I wouldn’t hesitate. I’d be like, yeah, I’m there.

You know, where do I go? Sign me up.

Brett Stanley: [00:32:04] well, I mean, I guess the stressors and the fear points, I guess they’re all pretty similar. I mean, you’re in an environment that you can’t survive in without, without assistance.

Jill Heinerth: [00:32:12] You know, what’s interesting. What’s interesting though, is that, uh, so far anyway, are, you know, space program. You could always call mission control for help. I mean, when you’re alone in an underwater cave on your own, the best person to rescue you is already in the cave. It’s you? There is nobody coming to save you if something goes wrong.

So, uh, you best deal with your own tools and abilities and get yourself home.

Brett Stanley: [00:32:37] Well, this is something that, that kind of blew my mind when I was exposed to cave diving. Um, I go to the Florida Springs a lot. I love

Jill Heinerth: [00:32:45] Hmm.

Brett Stanley: [00:32:46] photography. It is, it is like a spiritual place to me. Um, outside of the caves, obviously the, the. Hanging out in the car park there. Um, at say like somewhere like Ginnie Springs or somewhere the you’ve got all these cave divers coming in and going out, you know, there’s like a procession of them into the water or coming out.

And a lot of the ones that I speak to they’re at diving by themselves

Jill Heinerth: [00:33:07] Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So I used to live across the street from Jenny Springs. Uh, interestingly enough. Um, yeah, yeah, it is a beautiful place, but, um, yeah, a lot of us solo dive. Um, in fact, almost all of the diving that I do these days is solo. There’s just no one around, um, Me that has the same interests, background and abilities.

Um, and so, uh, I feel like I’m much safer on my own, literally. Um, Um, yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:33:35] like having someone else with you would make, would, would give. Know how to say it, like would possibly cause more problems down the line.

Jill Heinerth: [00:33:43] in, in, in many cases. Yeah. I mean, if I’m taking a, someone with less experience, uh, with me, then, then I’m constantly thinking about them too. I mean, when I’m on my own, even if it’s, even if it’s hard, you know, if I’m trying to light up a cave and shoot something on my own, it might take. You know, a lot longer because I don’t have any assistance, but, but I don’t have to worry about anybody else.

I’m just focused on myself and my job at hand. Um, yeah,

Brett Stanley: [00:34:10] So, how does that work in terms of your photography and your, your filming? If you, if you’re down there by yourself, are you, are you lighting up Kevin’s by hiding strobes in different places or what’s your kind of process?

Jill Heinerth: [00:34:22] yeah. Yeah. So, uh, up until very recently, everything was with. Slave strokes. And so I would very, very carefully swim through the cave. I’m trying not to stir up any silt and very carefully placed my slaves and then get back to where I’m ready to take my shot and then, and then trigger everything and hope it all works.

Right. Um, Um, these days has cameras, um, and the sensors improve. Uh, we’re using a lot more continuous lighting and. That’s a little bit faster and easier, frankly, to envision, uh, envision what you’re shooting. Um, and so I’ll just, yeah. Set up a bunch of lights and swim through sometimes I’ll, uh, you know, set the camera on a tripod and be in my own shot.


Brett Stanley: [00:35:07] Do you have a. Um, do you just put on self timer or something or do you have a trigger?

Jill Heinerth: [00:35:12] Yeah. Most of the time I’m just using a timer. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:35:15] So it’s going off like every 10 seconds or something. And then yeah. So you get all these awesome, like outtake shots of you,

Jill Heinerth: [00:35:21] exactly. Throw a lot away. Keep the few. Yeah,

Brett Stanley: [00:35:24] Well, that’s, that’s really fascinating. I cause when with most cave diving stuff, I just assumed there was at least one other diver who was possibly holding a slaved strobe who could help light it up.

But if you’re in there by yourself, um, and so your camera’s on a tripod, then you go and swim down and. Put a strobe and then he goes, went back to the camera, take a shot and go, well, that’s not right. And then keep changing like that. And so it must take quite a lot of effort to get a good

Jill Heinerth: [00:35:47] Oh, yeah. It takes a lot of effort. It’s a whole lot easier. I mean, if you’ve got a buddy that’s, that’s competent and knows what they’re doing with lighting, then, then yeah. You can get a lot just swimming through the cave and shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot. But, um, but yeah, when you’re on your own, uh, you’d spend an entire dive.

Just trying to get one shot that you have envisioned in your, in your mind. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:36:08] So you’d be going into that dive going. Okay. We’re going to go to this cabin and this is the shot I want to try and get today. And if I get that, then it’s a good day.

Jill Heinerth: [00:36:15] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:36:15] Um, a lot of these Kevin’s and especially with the Springs and stuff, they, I mean, they, they made, because water is forcing its way out of the earth.

So you have a constant current, I guess.

Jill Heinerth: [00:36:25] Yeah, very high flow. And especially in Florida caves and my local cave here in Nicaragua, um, very high flow. And so it’s physically hard work and, uh, and even, you know, setting up your gear too, sometimes you have to take weight belts in to hold down the camera to keep it from blowing over or same thing with lights.

Brett Stanley: [00:36:44] Yeah, that’d be like being in a wind tunnel.

Jill Heinerth: [00:36:47] Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes it is that strong that you cannot physically kick against the flow and you have to pull yourself along. So you have to have creative ways to carry your camera and weights and tripod and lights and a lot of extra equipment that’s not necessarily, or you don’t want it to be neutrally buoyant because you want to be able to put it down and for it to stay there.


Brett Stanley: [00:37:10] Are you, are you working with, um, with scooters or any sort of propulsion under there?

Jill Heinerth: [00:37:14] sometimes, uh, most often not because it’s just one more thing I have to, I have to deal with. Um, it, it certainly does make life easier when you’re kind of zipping in and out to, uh, drop things off. But, um, you can also inadvertently stir up the silt and, and so sometimes just swimming it methodically is, is the smart thing to do.

Brett Stanley: [00:37:35] Yeah. And I guess that current is kind of a double edged sword as well, because on one hand it’s, it’s, I’m clearing all that silt pretty quickly. But on the other hand, it’s, it’s forcing you to, you know, it’s resistance the whole time.

Jill Heinerth: [00:37:49] Yeah. And it depends on the cave. I mean, in Florida, it’s, it’s certainly blowing the silt out. Um, but those caves are, are dived a lot. They’re popular. And so, um, a lot of the silt on the walls and ceiling has been blown out just by traffic over the years. Uh, but the cave I’m working here in, um, in Canada, uh, it’s got only about two or three feet of visibility and it’s all soft silk const lean, just, you know, blowing at you.


Brett Stanley: [00:38:18] Is that something that you kind of use as an effect when you’re doing, when you’re shooting film? I mean, video that, that like kind of snow coming through.

Jill Heinerth: [00:38:26] I mean, certainly it’s, it’s obviously sort of compelling when you’re, when you’re shooting that. And people, people see that they’re like, wow, I can see the flow now I get it. But it’s hard. And this is extreme. Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:38:41] Um, I listened to your podcast, which I think is the same name as your book at the, into the, into the

Jill Heinerth: [00:38:46] into the planet.

Brett Stanley: [00:38:47] Um, and it’s fascinating because you cover all these different topics about cave diving and all that sort of stuff. But one thing that kinda stuck with me as I was listening was, and I think it was the episode about, uh, Ben’s vortex.

Jill Heinerth: [00:38:59] Oh yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:39:00] Um, and you were saying in the podcast that. That as you were going into this cave and you were kind of searching for the body of have been, um, that you and your partner got to the end of the cave, and you could see that the, the line just disappeared into a pile of sand, which meant that at some stage, this cave was bigger than it was

Jill Heinerth: [00:39:20] In underwater caves. Um, we have like aquifer pressure. That’s causing this current through the caves and time as humanity has continued to suck more and more groundwater out of the ground and lower the water table, the pressure has lowered and the low in some places has slowed down. And when the flow slows down, it’s that flow.

That’s keeping the cave open basically. And if you get to a. Like a squeeze point at the end of the cave where there’s high flow coming. Through a situation like that. And you see line, that’s buried into the sand. If you push your way into that opening and you cork that spot, then all the sand will just kind of cave in on you.

You know? Uh, I mean, thinking back to the story that you told at the, at the beginning of, of your, uh, of, of. This podcast. Um, if your body blocks the hole in an underwater cave, you’ve blocked the ability for the cave to stay open, basically. So if you were in an underwater cave in that situation, the sand would have slid in down around your legs and your waist, and then your upper body would have been the only part, you know, that, that wasn’t buried basically.

Brett Stanley: [00:40:29] so you can get buried alive

Jill Heinerth: [00:40:31] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:40:31] diving.

Jill Heinerth: [00:40:32] Sorry. I just gave you nightmare material.

Brett Stanley: [00:40:35] I’m done. I’ve

got little checklist from I’m playing trigger. Bingo right now. Yeah.

Jill Heinerth: [00:40:40] Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:40:41] That’s that’s that’s that sort of stuff is crazy. And you must have to be able to make a judgment when you look at a squeeze as to whether it’s worth

Jill Heinerth: [00:40:49] Well, I mean, there’s a lot of people that have, you know, paid with their lives in situations like that. Um, and, and yet, Some people have survived those situations through that, that discovery learning that I talked about, where it’s like, Oh wow, this was a bad idea. Can I get myself unstuck? Yeah,

Brett Stanley: [00:41:07] And do you decide, you have to back yourself out?

Jill Heinerth: [00:41:09] yeah, yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:41:11] And I guess that’s another reason why my, um, diving solo would be a lot easier because you then don’t have to, you don’t have someone behind you

Jill Heinerth: [00:41:18] well, you don’t have anyone that can pull you by the legs, but, um, but yeah, you also, I mean, really one of my closest calls was when I was diving with a scientist and I was leading into the cave. And when we turn to come out, um, The scientists got stuck and panicked and got wedged. And the way I described it in the book is that, um, the scientist became the cork in the bottle that was containing my life because if I couldn’t get this person unstuck in the blackness of a silt out, uh, well, while they were panicking, then, uh, the neither of us would have come out of the cave that day.

And maybe that experience. Yeah. Yeah. Maybe that experience made me much more of a solo diver.

Brett Stanley: [00:41:59] Well, I mean, when you’ve got that, when you’ve got to weigh up the risk versus reward situation, then yeah. Having only yourself to worry about would make a lot of sense.

Jill Heinerth: [00:42:09] Well, I remember in that dive, I mean, uh, even after. I got the scientist on stuck and I patched the guideline. I had to do a search because I couldn’t see I’m doing everything by feel. Right. And I lost track this person and I had to search and I searched for an extra 73 minutes, um, beyond when this person had already made it out of the cave and called for help.

Um, and you know, when I look back on at that time, it’s like that whole time I’m thinking, wow, I might die. Both of us might die. Um, it’s, uh, you know, quite something to, to reflect on.

Brett Stanley: [00:42:47] Yeah. Yeah. And I, and I guess, you know, kind of personality building as well. If you’re, you know, you get that close to thinking that yeah. This is the end and then

Jill Heinerth: [00:42:55] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Then you have to decide, is this something I really want to do is the worth the risk worth it? Um, is it fair to my family? Is it, you know, all of that.

Brett Stanley: [00:43:05] And I guess you’ve, you’ve the answer to that was, yes. You want to keep doing this?

Jill Heinerth: [00:43:09] yeah. Yeah. It wasn’t a quick, yes though. My poor husband, it was traumatizing on, on him that day. You know? I mean, my friends were writing letters and emails to me that were the things they would have read at my funeral. It was the eulogies, you know, and, uh, uh, just mentally grappling with all of that was difficult.

I mean, for my husband, it was like, You know, how much more do you have to do? What, when is enough? When can we just have a nice quiet life together?

Brett Stanley: [00:43:37] So that must be an interesting dynamic with you guys and he must be very understanding of your need to do this.

Jill Heinerth: [00:43:43] Yeah. I mean, in that case, he, he said, you know, When will you give me the time that you give to these expeditions? When, when will we do something special for months on end? You know? And, and so we ended up riding our bicycles across Canada together that summer, um, just to kind of process mentally what had happened.

And, um, and then during that bicycle ride, we were showing a film that we had. Um, created called we are water and it’s, uh, you know, it was a real labor of love. And, and every night when I showed the film and I talked to people and talked about cave diving, he got to see my face light up. And he realized that what I do makes me who I am, you know, and, and he can’t take that away from me or ask me to.

To stop because that’s forcing me to be someone that I’m not. And the girl that he fell in love with, unfortunately, for, for him, you know, means that it comes with the stress, the stress of waiting, you know, the worry, um, all of that. And so I have to be as respectful as I can to him and make the right choices in terms of risk and help him to understand why I love what I’m doing and why I feel it’s important.

Brett Stanley: [00:44:52] Yeah. Well, he sounds like a keeper.

Jill Heinerth: [00:44:55] He is amazing. I hit the jackpot.

Brett Stanley: [00:44:57] Yeah. And so, so he’s your filmmaking partner as well, right? Like you guys make

Jill Heinerth: [00:45:02] yeah, yeah. He’s he’s my audio guy and yeah. Yeah. He has a background in production and, and, uh, yeah, if I didn’t marry him, I might’ve hired him.

Brett Stanley: [00:45:14] So you have to hit the check box. You don’t need to pay this guy. Anything.

Jill Heinerth: [00:45:17] I paid twice as much as I make.

Brett Stanley: [00:45:21] So speaking of, uh, filmmaking and that sort of stuff, I know that you consult on a lot of, um, films and documentaries and stuff as well. Can you talk me through kind of the, the sort of productions you’ve been involved in?

Jill Heinerth: [00:45:31] Oh yeah, all kinds. You know, I love document documentaries and natural history programs that, you know, that kind of thing, but I’ve also done a few, uh, uh, Hollywood gigs as well, which is fun and interesting and maybe more dangerous than, than cave diving. Well, there’s  a lot of pressure on, on film sets. I did, uh, uh, uh, my first, like I’ve done a lot of TV, but my first big Hollywood production was a movie called the cave and underwater show that involved a monster and, and technical divers and the whole production, uh, the director or the, you know, everybody.

Uh, we’re not cave divers. So I was the, you know, the technical consultant. I was the stunt supervisor. I was producing, uh, all kinds of things. Uh, and they’re constantly pushing you to do things that are not safe, or they have an unrealistic expectations about, about what’s possible. So constantly having to reign everybody in.

And, and when I took that job, I said, listen, Right away. I need in my contract that I can yell, cut at any point. And they went, no, no, no, no. Sorry. The director is the only one who can do that. And it’s because you might yell, cut and cost us a hundred thousand dollars. I’m like, well, if I can’t yell, cut, it might cost someone their life.

So I need this in the contract before I’m willing to sign on and take responsibility for the safety of the people that are in the water. And it’s a really good thing. I had that power.

Brett Stanley: [00:47:01] Did you need to use it?

Jill Heinerth: [00:47:02] Three times. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:47:05] where they.

Jill Heinerth: [00:47:05] Uh, well, one was, was white. Different and not necessarily associated with, with underwater, but, um, but we had this, this whole cave set basically, and we are having explosions and water cannons and all kinds of stuff.

And, and, uh, my role in that, that day was just to do a stunt basically to, to surface in this, this cave entrance and, uh, uh, you know, pull a whole sled of stuff out of the water. Um, uh, So the actor didn’t have to do it. And as the water cannon went off, I saw this like sort of rip open up in this fiberglass last wall that was about 40 feet high and I yelled, cut, look out.

And then this whole massive piece of the such fellow for yeah, right into the waterway. We’d been, um, yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:47:54] were shooting this in a tank.

Jill Heinerth: [00:47:56] Out in Romania. Yeah. . Yeah, it was a whole, it was amazing. We literally. Built an Olympic swimming pool, like we’d dug the hole. The time that I was there made this, that made this underwater cave set that had a, a water slide of, of cave tunnels into it, a waterfall, and then a football stadium size cave as well that had a sump where you could enter into a pool, swim underwater surface in another pool.

Um, so, and then I had to be responsible for all the safety on all of these sets in, in addition to everything else I was doing.

Brett Stanley: [00:48:28] Wow. that’s a lot of pressure.

Jill Heinerth: [00:48:30] Yeah. It was a lot of pressure. It was really stressful at the time. And I look back on it much more fondly. Now it is all over her, but, but it was, it was tough. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:48:41] Yeah. Were the actors doing much of their own stunts?

Jill Heinerth: [00:48:45] Well, I, one of my jobs was to train the actors. None of whom were even divers, let alone cave divers. And we were using rebreathers as advanced form of life support. That’s different from normal scuba gear. So I originally had the plan of training them all. So they would be able to do a lot of their own stunts, but as I’ve learned, movie budgets always get.

Slashed and cut. And, and some of the most important things end up by the wayside. And I only had one diver that ever made it through open water training. So none of them were capable of doing their own stunts. Uh, so we had to use my crew and, uh, everybody had to be trained and work together to do some amazing, interesting stunts, which was fun.

Brett Stanley: [00:49:30] Yeah. Did you get to do anything yourself? Were you on

Jill Heinerth: [00:49:33] yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I, uh, I was, I played three different men in the, in the show as well as, as one of the women actors. Yeah. Yeah. But once you’re dressed up in all of that equipment, nobody can see who you actually are when only your eyes are showing.

Brett Stanley: [00:49:48] no, I mean, that probably helps a lot too with the, uh, uh, with the production of it. Yeah, that’s incredible. Um, the other thing I wanted to ask you about was, was being a woman in this, and I hesitate to call it a sport because it’s, it’s more than that,

Jill Heinerth: [00:50:02] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:50:02] what was it like being. Being a female coming into this, into this kind of, um, you kind of say industry, but

Jill Heinerth: [00:50:09] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, well, it’s funny. I don’t really like the word sport. Just like you say, it’s, it’s so much more it’s, you know, it’s a vocation, avocation, whatever, but, um, it’s been challenging. I mean, I’ve been a woman in a niche within a niche within a niche that are all male dominated. I mean, diving is still.

Male dominated in general technical diving, even more. So you start carrying a camera underwater and it’s, it’s extremely male dominated. And, um, even the expeditionary end of things, um, has had its challenges, um, and like many aspects of society. We still have a long way to go for. You know, acceptance that women are equals, you know, if we are given equal access to equipment, training and opportunities, then, then there’s no reason why we can’t be just as successful and effective in these underwater environments.

So, so I had to blaze the trail a little bit and, um, you know, upset the applecart from time to time, but it’s getting better. It’s getting better.

Brett Stanley: [00:51:10] Do you have, do you find that there’s more women coming in into the,

Jill Heinerth: [00:51:13] Absolutely. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:51:15] of say sport, but I can’t. What’s another word we can use.

Jill Heinerth: [00:51:18] Yeah. I don’t know. I’ve always struggled to find the right description for it. That’d be for some of us it’s a lifestyle. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:51:31] there’s more women coming into the lifestyle now?

Jill Heinerth: [00:51:33] Yeah, I’ve, I’ve made it a real personal goal to mentor and help other women move up through the ranks and become cave diving instructors and technical diving instructors.

Cause I think when there are more women in the, you know, upper echelons of, of, of training and, and. And within jobs in underwater opportunities, then, then it inspires younger women to, to realize that as possible. I mean, you need to see someone that looks like you doing these things in order to feel like there’s a fit and an opportunity.


Brett Stanley: [00:52:08] But it was interesting as I sort of go back to the Florida Springs experience for me, where I’m, you know, I’m meeting a lot of cave divers on the, you know, on the entry into the Springs and you get talking to them and it would be pretty much 50 50 of, you know, it would be. Couples going, doing training.

So they’d be their instructor and then the couple and you’d speak to them. And, and there was always one out of the two who was like, Oh no, I’m just doing it because they want to do it.

Jill Heinerth: [00:52:34] Hmm.

Brett Stanley: [00:52:35] it was 50 50 in terms of males and females. And it was always interesting when you see the guy go on, I’m just doing it because she does it.

Jill Heinerth: [00:52:42] Yeah, yeah,

Brett Stanley: [00:52:43] that’s awesome that she’s, you know, you’re,

Jill Heinerth: [00:52:45] yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:52:46] along because this is her passion. Taking letting her guide you into this thing. You might not even want to be doing it, but you’re going where she wants to, you know?

Jill Heinerth: [00:52:54] Yeah, two years down the road. She’ll probably be the only one doing.

Brett Stanley: [00:52:57] Yeah. Most likely. Yeah.

Jill Heinerth: [00:52:59] Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:52:59] Um, Um, do you have advice for people that are, that are getting into cave diving?

Jill Heinerth: [00:53:03] Well, I mean, it’s all, it’s a long time. Process. I mean, a lot of the world is moving faster and faster these days and, and a lot of people want instant success and you can certainly walk into a dive shop and buy an underwater scooter and a rebreather and all kinds of technical diving equipment. But I, I remind people that.

Experience and time in the water is the most important thing. Whether that’s time to develop your skills and abilities as a diver or, or time to work at your creative craft of shooting underwater, it takes time. And so you need to be patient and you can take lots of courses and you can have mentors, but nothing will replace true experience and a few scares along the way that that make you better.


Brett Stanley: [00:53:50] yeah. Just to build up that tolerance to it, I guess. Yeah. And just finally, Jill is what, what inspires you? Are there people that inspire you to kind of push this further? Or is it the world itself that inspires

Jill Heinerth: [00:54:02] Yeah, I think there’s just so much left to explore and I get inspired every time I take on a new project or work with a new scientist. I mean, right now I’m working in what most cave divers would. Not even bother with it’s a, a small, tight, high flow, low visibility, Coldwater cave, and most people would say, no, thanks.

I’ll wait for Florida the Springs, but I’m working on fascinating stuff. Science with a Malik ecologist. Who’s not a cave diver. And I become his hands and his eyes. And, um, You know, every time we review the footage together, I learned something new. And to me that’s very inspiring, learning more about our natural world and how the interconnections of the planet or work it’s, it’s the best part of my work.

Brett Stanley: [00:54:53] Yeah. So that discovery is the inspiration to keep you

Jill Heinerth: [00:54:57] Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Brett Stanley: [00:55:00] loop. It just keeps you going amazing. And what have you got coming up? Is there, are there projects in the works that you can talk about?

Jill Heinerth: [00:55:07] Yeah. I mean, these are such weird times because I’ve lost, you know, right now six months of, of work and the next six months have all been postponed. Um, so many projects and expeditions are, are. Hopefully just postpone some are going to be gone forever, just because of the, you know, the funding implications of what institutions are now dealing with.

Um, so I, I still have things on the horizon and I’m unsure of when they’ll, when they’ll go off, but I’ve got some work with Bob Ballard off of, off the California coast and the channel islands where we’re exploring caves that may have once been, uh, used by humans. Um, Yeah, working on, on documenting these, these completely new undescribed ecosystems inside this local cave.

Um, and, uh, uh, and I’m working on another book, so yeah, I’ve got lots, lots to keep me busy.

Brett Stanley: [00:55:57] This is good. Yeah. Have you been able to get out and dive in, in the covert situation?

Jill Heinerth: [00:56:03] Yeah. It’s three months. I like everybody else just kind of stayed home in isolation because it didn’t even feel right to get in the car and take an unnecessary risk that could. Land in the hospitals, you know, I, I, I didn’t want to stress any emergency or medical system, uh, but things have really settled down here in Canada and diving has resumed.

Um, and, uh, yeah, it’s still, it’s still, in my mind, I’m still very socially isolated from people. Cause I, I can’t afford to get to get COVID. I mean, you know,

Brett Stanley: [00:56:33] that’s tax the respiratory system

Jill Heinerth: [00:56:34] Exactly. It could easily be the end of my diving career. So I, I’m not even seeing my family right now, which is just tough, but

Brett Stanley: [00:56:42] Yeah. I mean, that’s a point though, because you know, I speak to like underwater models that I work with and other photographers and stuff. And, and it’s not till you kind of talk about that does long lasting respiratory with covert that they’re like, Oh

Jill Heinerth: [00:56:56] yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:56:57] Okay. I think a lot of people think this is going to be getting the flu and it’ll be over in a week.

Jill Heinerth: [00:57:02] yeah, it might be, you might get lucky, but Yeah, no, I think I’ll be continuing this sort of isolated life until we have a working vaccine. Yeah,

Brett Stanley: [00:57:11] It’s, uh, it’s going to be interesting for the next next, well, possibly years, I guess.

Jill Heinerth: [00:57:15] I think so. I mean, I think we do have to really prepare for the longterm here.

Brett Stanley: [00:57:20] Yeah. Luckily the virus doesn’t seem to like being underwater.

Jill Heinerth: [00:57:24] Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Stanley: [00:57:26] industry.

Jill Heinerth: [00:57:26] Maybe I’ll just have to make myself a habitat.

Brett Stanley: [00:57:29] yeah. Find a nice cave somewhere. Jill, it’s been amazing. It’s it’s just, uh, as I say, this has been so triggering for me, but it’s also so fascinating and empowering, you know, hearing that you’re doing these things that I find. So, so scary and hearing you talk about them. So calmly and so. Technically kind of makes me feel a better about, about possibly entering that world myself at some point.

Jill Heinerth: [00:57:55] ah, that’s good. Yeah. I mean, we’re all explorers right now, stepping into the darkness and whether you become a cave diver or not, you face those. Similar challenges in life where everything ahead is unknown. So hopefully everyone will embrace that exploration gene and do something that it’s a little uncomfortable.

Brett Stanley: [00:58:17] Yeah, get me out of the comfort zone a little bit. That’s awesome. Thanks Jill. It’s been such a pleasure.

Jill Heinerth: [00:58:22] Oh, it’s been lovely talking to you.

Support The Podcast


Buy The Underwater Podcast merchandise and 25% of profits will go to keeping our oceans clean with Project AWARE.

Subscribe for Updates

* indicates required