Jill Heinerth: Introduction
I’m rewarded every day with very unique opportunities in my career. I’m rewarded by the very fact that I get to call my own shots and choose the projects that I want to be involved in and have an active engagement in those projects. It’s very satisfying to me to have these incredible opportunities to work with amazing scientists and other divers who are incredibly talented and look at some of life’s mysteries. We get to explore places that people have never been before. We get to be the first people to set eyes on a passage in a cave or a new species of animal. And that is incredibly gratifying.
I think most of my mentors in diving were unknowing ones. They were personalities within the industry, trail-blazing women within the industry that inspired me; women like Sylvia Earle, for instance. But I think my thirst for adventure and learning started much earlier, perhaps in public school. I had some great teachers that really encouraged discovery, encouraged learning, and gave me as much work as I could possibly handle. And I think that’s really what set me up for a life of adventure and exploration.
I think there’s certainly been obstacles for me along the way. Sometimes financial, just figuring out how to find the funds to fund the dreams that I have. I think I’ve had an obstacle at times being a woman in a male-dominated world. Oftentimes I could see the gaze just look through and beyond me to the men standing behind me because I was doing something that was extraordinarily nontraditional for a woman. I’ve even had issues along the way where I’ve been told flat out this is not a woman’s world. And that’s been very frustrating. So at times I’ve had to work twice as hard or jump up and down and scream and say, “Hey, hey, look at me! I want this opportunity, too.” And that’s been hard. That’s been hard at times, but fortunately, I’ve still had a lot of really great opportunities.
Every day is new and interesting to me in my job. I remember, probably 20 years ago going to Highborne Cay in the Bahamas for the first time, my first tropical dive, first time out of a drysuit. I was used to diving in water that was 4C most of the time. I jump in and do this wall dive and up from the depths comes a school of spotted eagle rays. And at first I didn’t even see what they were, they were just little spots, like constellations of stars down in the depths. And then they took form as the wings were flapping through the water. And they came up and circled around. And I think that was one of the most magical moments I’ve had in the water.