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Oceanic Odyssey: The Life and Career of Jayne Jenkins

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Jayne diving with a haekels seajelly
Jayne diving with a haekels seajelly
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PT Hirschfield chats to instructor, explorer, underwater photographer and Women Divers Hall of Fame inductee Jayne Jenkins about her impressive resume.

Photographs by Jayne Jenkins, Linblad Expeditions

There are few Australian divers with an ‘ocean resume’ and living legacy more impressive than Women Divers Hall of Fame inductee Jayne Jenkins (just one of four Australians to have received this honour). Having grown up in a small village in Wales, Jayne fondly recalls exploring rock pools for crabs and fish while her father fished nearby: ‘My dad’s love of the ocean was passed onto me.’

Career Beginnings

Jayne was 16 when she first attempted her scuba training with BSAC, getting nine months into the difficult course without completing the certification: ‘I used to surf in Wales and came to Australia as a ‘10 Pound Pom’. I went to go surfing, but in 1973 they hated female surfers. But there were all these dive shops with signs that said ‘Come diving!’ So I traded in surfing and finished a PADI course that was much easier than my uncompleted BSAC course.’

Role in the Dive Industry

Jayne became actively involved in the dive industry for four decades. She co-owned Frog Dive (across multiple Sydney locations with her first husband), working at their dive shops as an Assistant Instructor, teaching underwater photography: ‘Channel 9 TV was close by. Whenever they needed a safety diver, they’d use me.’ Jayne also volunteered on the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, on-call for a month at a time and jumping out of helicopters to rescue fishermen off the rocks: ‘I was also the first female safety diver (with a news crew) on the Lermontov when that sank in New Zealand’. Later she worked for manufacturer Scubapro, Dive Adventures and then formed PADI Travel Network in Australasia.

Exploration and Adventures

Having discontinued logging her dives many years ago at 6,500, Jayne’s dive expeditions have taken her to the Galapagos, Cuba, Indonesia, Philippines, New Zealand, Maldives, Tahiti, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Tonga, the Arctic and Antarctica. Favourite adventures included the Sardine Run in South Africa, swimming with oceanic mantas at Socorro, macro and wide angle photography in Papua New Guinea, and the spawning of 2,000 bumphead wrasse in Palau. Jayne’s notable dive buddies have included Sylvia Earle, Ernie Brooks, David Doubilet and one of her closest friends, Valerie Taylor.

Recognition and Affiliations

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Jayne with close friend Valerie Taylor

She is a Fellow International of the elite Explorers Club: ‘I was nominated because I’d participated in ‘Artists in the Arctic’, a month in the Arctic where artists photographed, painted, filmed, collected and trawled for bait to find out what was happening with the Arctic.’ She had also separately done three weeks of laying quadrants to assess reef health in the Coral Triangle.

Achievements in Underwater Photography

Having completed a three-year photojournalism course, Jayne went on to become a celebrated underwater photographer. She’s won many photographic awards and continues to judge underwater photography competitions. Her underwater images feature regularly with magazine articles she has written – she is a regular within the pages of Scuba Diver Australia and New Zealand – and Time Magazine showcased a double-page spread of one of her images in 2014.

Involvement in Documentaries and Films

Beyond making still images, Jayne worked as a safety diver and researcher for the Hollywood film Sanctum and was a safety diver and camera assistant for the BBC’s Fierce Queens seahorse documentary, narrated by Reece Witherspoon: ‘We spent three dives a day for three weeks, in the water six or seven hours every day. We didn’t get a birth or a mating.’ She had greater luck (bolstered by research and perseverance) to recently capture images of a seahorse giving birth beneath Chowder Bay’s Clifton Gardens jetty: ‘I rang a seahorse expert to understand when they’re going to give birth. I went down four days in a row watching this seahorse, but in the end the timing was luck.’

Passion for Local Marine Life

Great white shark
Great white shark

While Jayne confesses that she’d love to one day photograph fighting sarcastic fringehead fish in the northeast Pacific Ocean, she’s passionate about diving and photographing marine life at her beloved local muck diving site, Clifton Gardens: ’There’s something different every dive. The EAC passes and swirls into Sydney Harbour, bringing tropicals with it.’ She’s particularly excited about the site’s anglerfish, having completed a PADI Frogfish Course in the Philippines: ‘It was one of the most interesting courses I’ve ever done, learning all the types of frogfish, how they breed and feed, their habitats, why they yawn – everything you could possibly want to know about them.’

Participation in Underwater Marathons

In 2006, Jayne participated as one of six divers who walked a total of 100km underwater at Chowder Bay: ’We had a 50 metre rope from the jetty as our track and rotated walking an hour each time in three teams of two. We started at 4pm on a Friday afternoon and finished about 4.30pm on Sunday afternoon, raising donations for Careflight.’

Work with The Ocean Agency and Underwater Earth

Stunning coral reefs
Stunning coral reefs

Jayne is resident photographer and consultant for the not-for-profit image bank The Ocean Agency, which had its origins in ‘Underwater Sydney’, aiming to show the public what was on their submerged doorstep. Underwater Sydney evolved to become Underwater Earth, painting a much bigger picture. Jayne volunteered for four months on the Catlin Seaview Survey, recording sections of the world’s ocean and reefs in 360 panoramic vision: ‘We monitored the Barrier Reef from Lady Elliot up to Rain Island with a scientific team and a photographic team, using a big scooter with three cameras on the front, taking three images every three seconds.’ This project led to the acclaimed documentary, Chasing Coral.

Ocean Advocacy and Mentorship

Jayne’s ocean advocacy has ranged from coordinating local underwater clean-ups to serving for 16 years as head of the Australasian Operations of Our World Underwater Scholarship Society (a role from which she’s recently retired, but remains on the board): ‘Scholars are sponsored by Rolex for one year to get them around the world. They receive an underwater camera set-up plus full dive gear.’ Scholars have invariably gone on to make significant contributions in ocean-related fields. This desire to sow into the lives of others who can make a positive difference for the ocean is deeply personal for Jayne: ‘My great-niece is two. By the time she learns to dive I’ll be 80. I hope and pray that the ocean is going to be as it is – or better .’ Jayne’s passion to help children experience the ocean via scuba for the first time was also evidenced in her co-founding of the Aliquam video series, featuring six children who’d never seen the ocean before doing Try Dives: ‘These are kids who will hopefully go on to protect the ocean.’

Views on Ocean Conservation

When asked her views on the prognosis of the ocean, Jayne replies: ‘I don’t want to be a pessimist. If we can get young people involved and somehow get more No-Take Zones, I’m sure it’s not going to get worse. It would be great if there could be one unified group that worked together towards the same positive outcomes, rather than lots of small satellite groups. It’s a hard one to answer, isn’t it? I want to stay positive.’

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This article was originally published in Scuba Diver ANZ #56.

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