As a child, Jill was inspired by Jacques Cousteau's television series. In fifth grade, she gave a Science Fair project about mysterious disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. She gained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communications Design at York University, and ran a small graphic design agency in Toronto while teaching scuba in Lake Huron's port of Tobermory in the evenings.
In 1991, Jill sold her business and moved to the Cayman Islands to dive full-time, honing skills in underwater photography. She then moved to Florida to work on cave diving, where she was mentored by documentary filmmaker Wes Skiles. In 1998, she was part of the team that made the first 3D map of an underwater cave. Jill became the first person to dive the ice caves of Antarctica, penetrating further into an underwater cave system than any woman ever. In 2001, she was part of a team that explored ice caves of icebergs where she and her then husband Paul Heinerth "discovered wondrous life and magical vistas" and experienced the calving of an iceberg, documented in the film Ice Island.
In 2015, Jill participated in exploring the numerous anchialine caves of Christmas Island. She consults on training programs for diving agencies, publishes photojournalism in a range of magazines and speaks around the world.
Jill’s photography and writing have been featured in prominent publications around the world, and she has received the KEEN Footwear-STAND Award for environmental photography. Jill’s work in environmental filmmaking has been recognized with countless awards including: International “Deffie” for the Best HD Documentary, Best Educational Film - Explorer’s Club Film Festival, Cine Golden Eagle’s and others. In recognition of her lifetime achievement, Jill was awarded the inaugural Medal for Exploration. Established by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, the medal recognizes singular achievements and the pursuit of excellence by an outstanding Canadian explorer. Recognizing a lifetime devoted to water advocacy, Jill was awarded the Wyland Icon and Sea Hero of the Year awards. She is a motivational speaker, prolific author of numerous books on technical diving, and a pioneer in the field of technical rebreather diving.
“I have been very fortunate to have had many incredible experiences while exploring this planet’s underwater world. From dangerous technical dives deep inside underwater caves, to searching for completely new ecosystems inside giant Antarctic icebergs, to diving under the lawless desert border area between Egypt and Libya while a civil war raged around me, and plunging deeper off Bermuda’s Bank than any other diver in history, I am incredibly fortunate. As I continue to explore and document our world, I intend to use my experiences to supplement educational outreach on my website IntoThePlanet.com”.
- Canadian Technical Diver of the Year, 2000.
- National Association of Cave Divers Conservation Award, 2010. Wyland Icon Award, 2011.
- Boston Sea Rovers Diver of the Year Award, 2012.
- Scuba Diving Magazine’s Sea Hero of the Year Award, 2012. Cinema Verde Environmental Film Festival Best of Show, documentary We Are Water, 2013.
- Florida Lakes Management Society’s Scott Driver Award, 2013. Sir Christopher Ondaatje Medal for Exploration, 2013. Academy of Underwater Arts & Sciences NOGI Award for Sports & Education 2017