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Boulderite Mehgan Heaney-Grier established the first constant weight free-diving record in the U.S. at age 18. Now 37, she just finished plummeting into a new adventure, where her particular skillset may net her a fortune.
Heaney-Grier is one of the treasure-hunters on Discovery Channel‘s show, “Treasure Quest: Snake Island,” which premieres on Friday at 11 p.m. Think “Snakes On A Plane,” but on a treacherous, uninhabitable island off the southeastern coast of Brazil. Substitute Heaney-Grier for Samuel L. Jackson, throw in a multi-million dollar fortune, and you get the gist of the show.
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Except that Heaney-Grier’s crew of five, which includes an expedition leader, a ship mechanic, a herpetologist (who’s been bitten by snakes 26 separate times), and a boat captain, isn’t putting on fiction. In the 16th century, a whole lot of Incan gold (the “Treasure of the Trinity”), was stolen, and promptly lost. Jesuit priests, privateers, and other treasure hunters have attempted to find it, and all have failed. The Discovery Channel team searches jungle cliffs, snake-infested caves, and sunken galleons, all in hopes of outsmarting their opportunistic predecessors.
Heaney-Grier, who grew up in the Florida Keys and graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2011 with degrees in ecology and evolutionary biology and anthropology, was charged with the aquatic portion of the hunt. She did the majority of the diving on the crew, uncovering and documenting underwater clues as the search unfolded. However, on a team full of strong personalities, her diplomatic skills proved just as valuable to the group effort.
“I was kind of a peacekeeper of sorts,” she says. “I had to keep everybody going in the right direction.”
Snake Island bares its name for a rather disagreeable species of pit viper, the golden lancehead, of which there are one per every square meter of land. The sea surrounding the island is also populated by pirates, and the crew wasn’t allowed to carry guns. Heaney-Grier says the threats and dangers “did not disappoint.”
“The terrain on this island, you’re dealing with snakes up here on your face, and a 200-foot sheer drop to your right,” she says. “One wrong step and you’re either going to get nailed by a snake or fall to your death on a rocky shoreline.”
Now back in Boulder, Heaney-Grier leads the Ocean Ambassador Program, an initiative within the nonprofit Colorado Ocean Coalition engaged in marine conservation. She says the program is recruiting new members for the 2015 class that starts in mid-September.
You’re probably wondering whether or not her team finds the treasure. For that, you’ll just have to watch the program, and like Heaney-Grier, hold your breath.
Visit Discovery.com for a full preview of the show.