The Bensussen Distinguished Lecture in the Arts welcomed Jill Heinerth, Canadian cave diver, underwater explorer, writer, photographer, and film-maker. Heinerth has explored the most dangerous and beautiful underwater caves on earth, discovered never-before-seen ecosystems inside giant Antarctic icebergs and has led expeditions into extreme environments to advance scientific and geographic knowledge.
According to filmmaker James Cameron, “More people have walked on the moon than have been to some of the places Jill Heinerth has gone right here on earth.”
Heinerth’s lecture, co-sponsored by Wilkinson College’s Engaging the World: Leading the Conversation on Environmental Justice series, spotlighted her many explorations and projects throughout her career. In 2001, she became the first person to dive the ice caves of Antarctica, going further into an underwater cave system than any woman previously had.
“I went to Antarctica to interact with the largest piece of ice that had ever broken away from the Antarctic ice shell (from the Ross Ice Shelf). This large piece of ice was the size of Jamaica, the largest moving object ever seen on our planet,” said Heinerth.
It took 12 days of travel to get to the remote destination for Heinerth and her team, which included dangerous situations, such as 60 foot waves causing injuries, ice coating the boat, and navigating through hard packed ice.
“Once we got down there, we [also] got stuck in the packed ice and this was all before we began our dives inside these icebergs. Nobody had ever cave dived inside an iceberg, so we didn’t know what we would encounter.”
As it turned out, the iceberg had an environment where Heinerth and her team could swim through and explore. They dove through passages and tunnels where no human had ever been. Some areas, Heinerth could swim underneath, discovering an incredible ecosystem that hadn’t ever been documented.
“We experienced things I never even imagined, [there was] life inside the iceberg. I get such a rush knowing that mine are the first eyes to see something. I guess it’s just this primal calling.”
“Caves are my office and in my office, I’m a seeker.”