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Explorer inspires Dartmouth kids

Heinerth, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s explorer-in-residence, gives a presentation to students on Tuesday.
TIM KROCHAK • THE CHRONICLE HERALD
Heinerth, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s explorer-in-residence, gives a presentation to students on Tuesday. TIM KROCHAK • THE CHRONICLE HERALD - The Chronicle Herald

Jill Heinerth has given a TED Talk, but the veteran marine explorer says making one of the bite-sized videos for the popular international ideas conference can’t compare with doing cosy presentations for Canadian school kids.

“This is more fun, actually,” Heinerth said after an afternoon session with about 180 students in the gym at Eric Graves Memorial Junior High School in Dartmouth on Tuesday.

“This age group is amazing. They’re so full of possibility and enthusiasm. Their ears are wide open right now, and you really have a chance to give them a positive leg up.”

Heinerth is travelling across the country in her role as explorer-inresidence with the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, the educational non-profit organization that publishes Canadian Geographic magazine, funds expeditions, and provides grants and scholarships for geographical research.

In a way, Heinerth said, her position lets her be the type of inspirational figure that she was looking for when she was growing up in Mississauga, Ont.

“This was my primary goal when they asked me to be the explorer-in-residence. It’s a volunteer position and they said, ‘What would you like to do with this appointment?’ I told them that I really wanted to be the mentor I wish I had had when I was 10 years old. So they went out and aggressively found funding with the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, who support all the logistics to send me around to all of these schools across Canada.

“And I’m doing as much of it as I can. I think it’s really important work, and I love spending time with the kids.”

The students were attentive during Heinerth’s 40-minute presentation, which blended equal measures of science and adventure with visuals and her firstperson recollections of diving deep into underwater cavern systems and icebergs off Antarctica to conduct research.

“When I look into the darkness of an underwater cave, I see nothing but possibilities. These caves are stunningly beautiful.”

She has more than 7,000 dives to her credit, and some were in tight spots. As one of her video clips proclaims, more people have walked on the moon than have been to some of the places she’s explored on Earth.

However, she told the students that, as thrilling as some of her explorations may have been, she’s not a thrill seeker.

“Despite the fact that this is a really risky business, I don’t think of myself as an adrenaline junkie. I actually think of myself as very risk-averse. I like to plan ahead, and before I go on a dive I have to know that I’m capable of selfrescue and buddy rescue before I do something.

“And that’s kind of a good thing to think about whenever you’re doing something that’s scary or new or different.”

Heinerth specializes in documentation through underwater photography and videography. The filmmaker and author, who splits her time between Toronto and Florida, often swims her way through what she calls the veins of Mother Earth, using technology to probe springs to examine things like the potential scarcity of water.

“Going into these caves is really worthwhile because, at the very least, these are carrying our drinking water that serves all of humanity,all mankind, all of our wildlife and everythingthat we do and manufacture on the surface of the Earth. Understanding water and how it moves around the planet and how we might unintentionally be polluting it is probably one of the most important issues of the next century.”

In a sense, she’s trying to convince every young person who gets to see her presentations that they’re all explorers-in-residence.

“It’s a pretty cool job I have, isn’t it?”

-TIM ARSENAULT

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