CONYERS - Imagine diving under water in subzero temperatures into a fissure in the world's largest iceberg, maneuvering through openings only a few feet wide that could close at any time. Most would find the very idea frightening. Jill Heinerth describes the experience as invigorating.
"It's such an incredible privilege," she said. "(I think of myself as) diving in the veins of Mother Earth."
In March 2000, Heinerth dove up to half a mile into
B-15, an iceberg the size of Connecticut that broke off the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. The dive was the subject of the 2002 National Geographic documentary "Ice Island."
"It's probably the most dangerous thing I've ever done," she said.
Heinerth is an award-winning filmmaker and an expert in technical diving. She said she will be talking about her experience inside B-15 and others like it when she speaks Wednesday in a presentation hosted by the Ultimate Adventure Dive Center in Conyers.
Heinerth, 42, described diving as a passion, something she said that impressed her family and friends, as well as striking them as a bit strange, considering she grew up in Canada where it's very cold. Her first dive was at the age of 16, though she wasn't certified until she was 21.
"It's something I wanted to do my entire life," she said.
She graduated from York University with a degree in fine arts and worked in graphic design for a while, but continued to dive regularly and even became a certified instructor. She said she started cave diving when she was about 23 years old. Cave diving is a type of technical diving in which SCUBA gear is used to explore caves at least partially submerged in water and has become Heinerth's area of specialty.
It was around 1997 when she was the subject of a National Geographic program on cave diving. She said it was not long after that she began to use her fine arts background to begin producing and writing.
Despite the potential hazards involved, Heinerth said she would not describe herself as a thrill seeker.
"I think of myself as a problem solver," she said. "Sure, there's a thrill in going where no one has before, but risk assessment is important. I plan on coming home from everything I do."
Heinerth said there's a larger message involved in what she's doing and that she hopes to educate people.
For example, in "Water's Journey: The Hidden Rivers of Florida," part of a series she produced and wrote for PBS, she followed a molecule of water through Florida's underground water systems. She traveled under homes, golf courses and barbecue joints, finding large amounts of pollution. Finally, she surfaced at a sinkhole where it appeared that someone had been dumping trash, such as oil cans and tires, by the truckloads into the water supply.
A community effort to clean up the sinkhole resulted from "Water's Journey," and more have taken place since. Heinerth said two weeks ago she was involved in a community project to clean up the Santa Fe River in Florida, from which more than 1,650 pounds of trash was pulled out.
Heinerth said making these films has allowed her to marry her two passions.
"I've always been an outdoorsy type," she said. "(In school) I was between environmental science and fine arts."
She said water issues will also be a focus when she speaks in Conyers on Wednesday. In her lecture, titled "Challenging the Unknown," Heinerth will not only speak on her near-death experiences and what it's like to go places no one has ever been before, but also on how people can start being part of the solution for some of today's biggest environmental concerns.
"Citizens need info on how the watershed works," she said. "Nobody wants to pollute."
The presentation will begin at the Ultimate Adventure Dive Center in Conyers and move to Greater Love Church right behind the center in the same building at 1403 A-1 Iris Drive. It begins at 7 p.m. For more information, call 770-918-8818.