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The canary in the coal mine

SuuntoDive — 8 Juni 2021

Jill Heinerth shares the view from below the surface on World Oceans Day.

To celebrate the World Oceans Day 2021, Suunto ambassador Jill Heinerth shares insights from her 20 year diving career.

Suunto ambassador, pioneering underwater explorer and film maker, Jill Heinerth has dived in icebergs, explored deep underwater caves, and more recently documented the impacts of climate change in the Arctic Circle.

Capturing our changing planet and educating the public about the growing threat of climate change is what is increasingly moving her to dive and explore our blue planet. On World Ocean Day 2021, Jill shares insights from her 20 year career. 


Press play to watch her incredible journey!

Where are you now and how has the pandemic treated you?

I live in a 200-year-old mill in a small town near Ottawa, Canada. It has actually been a bit of a gift to be home with my husband for a prolonged stretch, but I am certainly eager to get back to some of my travels. This has been a good time for rest, learning, and incubating new ideas.

What’s been inspiring you lately?

I wrote the foreword for a new book by Frauke Bagusche. The book is called: The Blue Wonder: Why the Sea Glows, Fish Sing, and Other Astonishing Insights from the Ocean. I found it fascinating and quite inspirational.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm exploring Canada's longest underwater cave system and documenting some of the endangered species I have found there. I am also actively involved in a documentary and educational initiative about the Great Lakes Watershed. With many of my projects on hold from COVID, it has been great to be involved in important projects close to home.

It’s mind blowing how many incredible expeditions you’ve been on – how have they changed you?

Absolutely! As I get older, I feel more urgency to work on projects that really matter and that will leave a lasting educational legacy. I am drawn to work that communicates about water literacy and climate change. I think that motivational stories from the natural world and exploration can connect people to critical global issues.

Is the underwater exploration and expedition scene attracting more women now?

It is not happening quickly enough for my liking, but I am seeing more women involved in exploration. I think there are a lot of women that face serious roadblocks; difficulty getting career positions and opportunities.

You say you’re the canary in the coal mine – what are you seeing right now in terms of alarm bells?

Oh gosh, where should I begin? I'm 56 years old and I am truly shocked by the magnitude of change that I have seen in the natural world in my lifetime. The coral reefs I dived on 30+ years ago are dead and devoid of fish. The sea ice in the north sets up later and thaws earlier each year. The lakes that I learned to dive in have been grossly affected by invasive species. We are living in a rapidly transforming world. It frightens me, but I do not give up hope.

What does humanity need to do to avoid crossing the tipping point?

I hope we have not already crossed the threshold, but I would say that we all need to stay optimistic. We might not have the big answers to the world's most pressing issues, but we all know small actions and changes that we can make in our lives that help move humanity in a positive direction. We need to urgently address the warming planet and water quality issues. They are all connected. Our actions against COVID-19 are a good example. We are delivering a vaccine that might have previously taken a decade to develop and test. We have the brain trust and the explorers that can solve big problems when we all work together.

How has the development of Suunto dive tech aided your journeys?

I've been diving Suunto products for my entire career. They have always been innovative, well-built, and reliable. When somebody opens a box with a brand new Suunto product, they likely feel as I do... that this tool is going to accompany me on some of life's greatest adventures! One of the Suunto computers I used for record-breaking dives in 1998 is now on the wrist of a young whale researcher in Patagonia. I've passed on my older devices to others that are still using them today. That is quite an endorsement!

Do you have any dream explorations you’d like to do?

I have not yet visited the Galapagos or Cocos Islands. I sure hope to make that possible one day. In the interim, I will have lots to keep me busy!

All images and video by Janne Suhonen, Divers of the dark