Intrigued by the ocean from a young age, Danni Washington is a woman we find deeply inspiring. Her commitment to science education and ocean conservation is unsurpassed, so we were excited to sit down with her and learn more about her story...
Tell us a little about yourself and your work...
Hey Ocean Lovers! My name is Danni Washington and I’m a science communicator who has hosted a variety of educational and science TV shows including Xploration Nature Knows Best on Amazon Prime, Strange Evidence on the Science Channel, and Science the $#*! Out of It on Facebook Watch. Most recently, I worked as a correspondent on Mission Unstoppable on CBS which airs every Saturday morning nationwide. I’ve loved the ocean since I was six years old and graduated with a B.Sc. degree in Marine Science/Biology. My passion is being the bridge between the scientific community and the rest of the world by helping explain the science concepts in an engaging way. I’m proud to be the first African-American woman to host my own science television series. I’m also the co-founder of a non-profit called Big Blue & You where we teach and inspire youth about ocean conservation using art and science. I am also the co-creator of a youth initiative called Sea Youth Rise Up where we collaborate with young ocean leaders to advocate for ocean conservation in our nation’s capital, an inspirational speaker, and the original Mocha Mermaid!
We share a deep love of the ocean. What are your earliest memories of the water and why did you feel so inspired to build your career around its preservation?
I’m a Miami native with Jamaican roots, so the ocean is an integral part of my identity. I dreamt of studying the ocean since I was six years old .The ocean was such a big part of my life growing up in Miami and I considered the beach my blue backyard. I’ve witnessed the rapid decline of ocean health over the years which has driven my passion to amplify simple actions everyone can take to protect our beautiful planet. I specifically remember walking along the shoreline on Miami Beach with my Dad when I was about four years old. It was a gorgeous Florida day with tons of people in the water when I noticed a small school of minnows swimming adjacent to my Dad and I. We managed to look at the fish up close and that was the exact moment when my curiosity for ocean life began. I also remember endless summer days at my grandmother’s house where my cousins and I would spend hours in the pool pretending to be mermaids. All I wanted to do was spend as much time underwater as possible and that desire eventually led me to become a certified scuba diver at 17 years old. The experiences I’ve had while scuba diving throughout the years have been extraordinary. One particular encounter with a giant manta ray off the coast of Ecuador changed my life forever. It was a moment that continually fuels my fire to protect what remains in the ocean.
We love that you’re so passionate about science! Our Founder and Formulator, Jenefer Palmer, studied chemistry and also loves encouraging people to pursue a career in the field. Tell us a little about how you mentor young people interested in science...
I believe it’s incredibly important that young people, and especially young girls, learn about science from a young age. My favorite method to connect with this youthful audience is through hosting science television shows because they reach such a wide viewership. It also gives me the opportunity to break down complex science concepts in a way that’s understandable for today’s youth. I also love to organize events with the Big Blue & You which is a nonprofit I co-founded with my mother. Our annual Art by the Sea festival provides kids a chance to interact face-to-face with local marine scientists and artists who care about the ocean. This fun-filled event my mom and I designed eight years ago to drive our community’s love for our ocean using science and art. I’ve also worked at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center as a naturalist where I educated thousands of South Florida children about local marine ecosystems while they visited the center during school field trips. I truly believe actively showing young people that S.T.E.M. fields are fun and providing hands-on experiences to engage them in science is one of the best things we can do to support the next generation.
"My passion is being the bridge between the scientific community and the rest of the world by helping explain the science concepts in an engaging way..."
What do you think are the biggest challenges for women in science today?
The world of science and particularly science communication is still mainly a male-dominated field, so it can be hard to break into it as a new science communicator. I remember a distinct feeling of being alone when I attended my marine science program at the University of Miami as one of the only women of color enrolled at the time. We have to provide more mentorship opportunities and access to resources for aspiring female scientists. However, we have been making great strides recently as well and I’m proud to be the first African-American to host my own science television series in the United States. We need to break down the barriers for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) to enter various S.T.E.M. fields simply because we deserve a seat at the table in order to share our unique perspectives and ideas. The human race is beautifully diverse and I would like to see all people equally represented. More frequent images of women as scientists in media will naturally support the concept - If you can see it, you can be it. I believe that representation is extremely important and it’s my goal to inspire young girls to fearlessly follow their passions whatever they might be.
Being kind to the planet is a huge priority for us here at OSEA. As someone involved in ocean conservation, what tips can you share to help care for waterways in our day to day lives?
Our individual and collective decisions in the next ten years are pivotal. The United Nations proclaimed 2021-2030 as the Decade for Ocean Science for Sustainable Development to reverse the cycle of decline in global ocean health. Additionally, the ocean conservation and scientific community have set our eyes on protecting at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 in order to provide the ocean an opportunity to recover. The most encouraging fact is the ocean is resilient. It simply needs time and space away from human activity to heal itself. This will be a massive effort but it can be attainable if we collectively decide amongst our own communities, states and nations to encourage our governments to set aside vital areas of the ocean that are currently being decimated. It is essential for citizens in their prospective countries to VOTE FOR THE OCEAN. Support legislation that protects both the planet and people.
Our addiction to fossil fuels has created the majority of the environmental challenges facing the sea especially pervasive plastic which is created from refined crude oil. Plastic pollution is a huge problem for the ocean and marine life, so cutting back on daily unnecessary single-use plastic is always a great idea. You can start simple when it comes to protecting our oceans. Try swapping out common single-use plastic items that you use on a daily basis (like plastic straws, plastic bags, plastic utensils) for a more sustainable option (like reusable straws, reusable tote bags, bamboo utensils). For those that love eating seafood, make sure that it’s ethically and sustainably caught. Industrialized overfishing is destroying the balance of critical ocean ecosystems, so buying consciously is a huge help. An even braver choice would be to choose a plant-based diet instead. This will drastically decrease the amount of greenhouse gases that you are personally responsible for emitting into the atmosphere. We can all be part of the wave of change that will protect our oceans. Every single person is an important part of the change that we urgently need.
Are there any other sustainability measures you take in the office and at home to minimize your impact upon the earth?
I aim to buy locally and sustainably as much as possible in my life. I like to support businesses who are conscious of their impact on the environment. The more we spend with these types of companies, the greater the demand for other corporations to follow suit. I always choose to utilize reusable options in my daily life and avoid single-use plastic as much as possible. Of course, I’m not perfect and plastics inevitably creep into my lifestyle (especially when I’m traveling for work) but once I recognize an item that keeps showing up in my life, I quickly seek alternatives. When I’m on the go, I carry a reusable bottle, a collapsible grocery bag, reusable straws, and I always have my bamboo utensils with me in my bag so I don’t need to use plastic utensils. I also invest in carbon offsets and buy from carbon neutral companies whenever I can. Every action counts and each individual person can make small changes that lead to a sustainable lifestyle.
Do you have a mantra or quote that you connect with deeply?
“Some women aren’t meant to be tamed. Maybe they need to run free until they find someone just as wild to run with them.” - Candace Bushell
“The sea, once it casts its spell, it holds one in its net of wonder forever.” - Jacques Yves Cousteau
I love both of these quotes and read them almost everyday. The first quote by Candace encourages me to continually seek the wildness in myself and reminds me to refuse conforming to the world’s standards. Also to keep my eyes open for those around me who share this mentality and remember to stay connected to nature no matter what. And the second quote by my hero Jacques, inspires me to maintain a curious mind at all times and allow the ocean to constantly reveal its wonders each time I step foot in the water.
What lies ahead for you?
I’m currently expanding my lifestyle brand called Mocha Mermaid. I am the original Mocha Mermaid, and I’ve been donning my mermaid tail for years. It has been fun to connect with youth about the ocean in a very relatable and magical way. I’m also the host of an upcoming podcast set to release next month called 21st Century Mermaids featuring various womxn and nonbinary people who work in ocean conservation. I’m also interested in hosting other S.T.E.M. and ocean related content on various platforms. Now that we are navigating our new reality in a post-covid world, I find myself dreaming about what a sustainable and just world might look like in the years to come. I think it is imperative that those who have this same dream begin visualizing the changes they wish to see in the world. The time is now to act on those visions. We have a distinct opportunity to revitalize the way we live on this planet. We must move away from extracting and exploiting Mother Nature. Instead, we can actively work alongside the natural world and find regenerative ways to thrive while we’re on this planet. By following the lead of our Indigenous elders, supporting more women to pursue leadership roles and empowering our youth, I believe we can achieve the just and sustainable world we want.
Snorkeling - from Florida Springs, photographer: Jennifer Adler
Beach photos - A.R. Nellhaus
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