The Innovation Generation logoIn June of 2008, Daniell “Danni” Washington graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor’s degree in marine science and biology and within two months had won the Roxy Surfwear’s Follow Your Heart Tour contest for $10,000.

Washington and her mother, entrepreneur Michelle Swaby, used the money to start the foundation The Big Blue and You to educate children about the ocean and the necessary conservation required to keep it healthy.

“Over 50 percent of the oxygen on this planet comes from plankton in the ocean. It’s our life source and we all need to put energy into protecting it,” says Washington. Now, with the foundation, Danni is training future conservationists to utilize service projects, the visual arts and other media to help educate others about the ocean.

“Even in Miami, people don’t understand about protecting precious water, and they are surrounded by it,” says Washington, who has helped more than 5,000 kids in south Florida create public service announcements about water with the One Water Workshop.

In an effort to draw attention to the cause, The Big Blue and You has created a number of art festivals that take entire families to the ocean and teach them about pollution and water scarcity. “We had artists come in and create projects with recycled materials that could be found on the beaches. They turned water bottles into fish mobiles, and learned about both,” said Washington of last year’s Art Gallery by the Sea.

In addition to creating art festivals and projects with kids, Danni is taking her program into schools for classroom and after-school activities that educate and hopefully inspire students to look at careers that can help the cause.

“I knew I wanted to work with the water at [age] 6, but only after my mom gave me the words ‘marine biologist.’ But even then but I didn’t quite know how to get there,” said Washington.

Internships with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Pew Institute for Ocean Conservation Science and a year volunteering on a marine mammal stranding team exposed her to the many job possibilities open to people with her degree. And to pass along that knowledge, the newest initiative for The Big Blue and You website is a “Meet the Experts” database that introduces scientists who work with the ocean to kids who are beginning to consider career options.

Today, Washington considers herself a marine conservationist and sees her role as a link between research and the public. She created a kids' television show to reach audiences beyond Miami and hopes to expand the reach of The Big Blue and You beyond Miami and Florida internationally, especially to island nations that are surrounded by water. But she also hopes to reach those who live nowhere near the coasts to help them understand that their lives are connected to the ocean and conservation is the responsibility of us all.

Get inspired: Learn about others who are making a difference with MNN's Innovation Generation project.

Daniell Washington: Bringing ocean awareness to young people
In June of 2008, Daniell "Danni" Washington graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor's degree in Marine Science and Biology and within two months