A day at the beach for most small children usually involves splashing in the water and building sand castles. Danielle “Danni” Washington’s childhood fascination with the ocean went much deeper. Her youthful intrigue about the ocean and its inhabitants has resulted in marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami, a $10,000 cash prize and an exciting new career that allows her to share her passion with others.
The 23-year-old with a model’s good looks is the founder of The Big Blue and You Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Miami that she established in 2008 after graduating with a double major from UM that same year.
That South Floridians are surrounded by water, but are “not aware of the natural
treasure that we have,” is a huge motivator for Washington, who will co-host the foundation’s first fundraiser on Friday, June 11, with Giancarla Bodoni, the owner/chef of Escopazzo, an organic Italian restaurant on South Beach.
The event, which will include a silent auction to raise funds for the foundation, “will
engage people in the conversation about the state of our water and what we can do about it while, enjoying…organic, Mediterranean seafood and Italian wines.”
Washington said she discovered marine biology as a child after telling her parents that she wanted to study the ocean, and asking, “So what major is that?” She credits her mother with exposing her to activities that answered her many questions about the ocean.
Her interests were further nurtured at South Broward Senior High school, where she participated in the school’s marine science magnet program. After graduating from college, Washington wasn’t quite ready to “go back into academia, and needed to figure out what I wanted to do,” so she created the Big Blue.
The North Miami Beach resident said she created the foundation to essentially take what she’s learned about the ocean and pay it forward, hoping to inspire children to embrace her love of the earth‘s water.
One of Big Blue‘s projects is the One Water workshop, which Washington describes as, “A program for high school students where they come in and learn about filmmaking as well as water conservation. They make PSAs about water. So it’s kind of a combined effort with the Miami World Cinema Center.”
Washington’s career got a jump start from the Roxy clothing store, which specializes in apparel for young women who like surfing, snowboarding and other outdoor activities.
When she learned of a 2008 competition sponsored by the store that asked girls around the country “What are you doing to follow your heart?” she said she had a friend help her film a short video. After submitting the video that described her desire to create a TV show with the ocean and awareness of its resources as the focus, she said, “I actually won. They awarded me a $10,000 prize.”
Washington works as a naturalist at the Biscayne Nature Center. In addition to that, she said she has spent the last year and half working on the TV show, which she calls “a work in progress,” and getting the foundation up and running.
When asked to share her thoughts on the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, she breathed deeply before responding.
“It’s been really rough. I feel very helpless right now because I can’t physically go there and stop the oil from spilling. It seems like they’re moving too slowly. It’s hard, it’s
really hard,” said Washington, who added that she is eager to help with the clean up “if we start to get some of the tar balls on our shorelines.”
In addition to helping people to realize just how essential the planet’s water is to
humans’ existence, she said she also wants to “Wake people up to the fact that we really need to stop our dependence on oil, and start looking at other solutions for cleaner energy sources.”
Ted Davis runs the marine science and technology magnet program at South Broward high and is a member of big Blue’s board of directors.
“What an awesome job that they’re doing on a shoe string budget,” Davis said of his former student, the pride in his voice very evident. “[As a high school student] she volunteered her time for years at state parks along the water shed.”
Washington’s role as captain of the program’s (Jeopardy-type) Ocean Bowl program, Davis explained, “enabled her to spend a summer in Washington state helping marine scientists study the coastal zone of the Pacific northwest coast.” She was also a part of a team of students that spent three weeks in South Africa studying great white sharks.
The teacher said he continues to be in awe of his student.
“She’s always had a dream. She’s always had the discipline and skills necessary to fulfill those dreams. A lot of people dream but not a lot of people follow through with it.”
For more information about The Big Blue, please visit www.thebigblueandyou.com.
Photo:Danielle Washington, center, with members of the Big Blue & You Foundation. Danielle Washington, center, with members of the Big Blue & You Foundation.