Diving through terror to explore the wonders of the ocean


Kate Jonker’s ears were ringing. Tunnel vision had set in, and she was dizzy. Not a good sign while attempting to dive 40 metres under the ocean. Jonker had developed nitrogen narcosis, a condition that temporarily alters the consciousness of divers. It was terrifying. But if she wanted to find the strange creature she was looking for, Jonker had to take the plunge and try again. On her second attempt this year, she only had 15 minutes worth of oxygen. As a macro underwater photographer, she knew there were no rewards without risk. And with three minutes left on the clock, Jonker got her prize: a shot of a purple weedy scorpionfish.

For Jonker, becoming the self-assured diver she is today has been a lifelong journey. “From a young age, I was scared to swim,” Jonker says. “I didn’t want to put my head under the water.” It was her intrepid grandmother who drove Jonker to explore new worlds, taking her snorkeling and swimming. “She really had a profound impact on my life and forced me to get out of my comfort zone,” Jonker says. As a teenager, she fell in love with photographing natural landscapes. But when Jonker first took a camera underwater in 2002, her photos were awful. At the time, her knowledge and equipment weren’t enough to capture the ambience of the oceans. It was only 10 years later, as cameras grew more advanced and Jonker taught herself the skills needed, that she was able to start producing the exceptional photographs she does today.

Jonker was named the overall winner at the Durban Undersea Club Photographic Shootout in 2016, among other awards for her work. But it’s the depths she has conquered that matter the most to her. “Diving does challenge you,” Jonker says. “It makes you a stronger person. You realise that everything is possible.” To overcome fear, sometimes all we need is a push in a different direction.