Danni Washington connects people to science and the sea

Danni Washington, a Miami native with Jamaican roots, attributes her love for the ocean to her Caribbean heritage and family adventures. Her journey from young dreamer to the first woman of color to host a science television science show is truly remarkable.

Starting at age 6, Washington couldn’t get enough of the ocean. She obsessively watched nature documentaries and read books.

“I knew at 17, as I was ready to graduate high school, that I wanted to study marine biology and that I wanted to travel the world,” she said.

Coupled with her desire to experience the beauty of the ocean herself was her drive to share her experiences with the world.

At school that mission crystallized: Washington decided to bridge the gap between the mysteries of the ocean and communities who remained distant from its wonders.

“I realized that I needed to bring stories from the ocean back to the people because so many folks, especially in the brown and Black community, had no clue what was happening underwater,” she said.

The idea led her to the University of Miami, where she studied marine biology. She quickly noted the lack of diversity in the program, something that surprised her, given Miami’s vast cultural diaspora.

She turned that awareness into motivation.

“I realized I might be one of the only people who looked like me in this program,” she reflected, “but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be that way forever.”

In 2008, at 21, Washington entered a contest called the “Follow Your Heart Tour,” sponsored by swimwear company Roxy, and won a $10,000 grant. This allowed her to co-found, with her mother Michelle Swaby-Smith, their dream project: Big Blue & You.

“The idea initially was to use creative media to connect young people to the ocean as well as science,” Washington explained.

Fifteen years later, Big Blue & You has become a transformative force, leaving a lasting impact on South Florida’s community. Through innovative programs like Art by the Sea, which combines art and science, and initiatives like Plastic Free Cities, which empowers high school students to advocate for reducing single-use plastics, Washington and her team have turned awareness into action.

“I’m super proud of the team that’s worked on this project because it’s truly grassroots,” she said. “It’s truly giving young students an opportunity to impact and affect change in their neighborhood because that’s where it starts.”

Washington became a TV presenter and host in 2016, when she got her first opportunity to host a nationally syndicated show called “Nature Knows Best.” Since then, she’s worked in TV on various networks, including CBS, National Geographic and Discovery Channel.

She embraces the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, emphasizing the importance of equal opportunities for every child to thrive. Washington sees science communicators as vital bridges between diverse backgrounds and communities who can foster a better understanding of the world.

“Continue to dream, dream like Dr. King,” Washington said. “Dream about the bigger things that you know you can accomplish and how you can contribute to our global society in a positive way.”