Danni Washington is a lover of the natural world. A woman making waves and diving deeper into the health of our oceans while also advocating for women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in STEM fields. A science communicator who uses her voice, social media platform, and engaging personality to serve a larger cause.
The world is taking notice of her efforts. Washington recently joined the judging panel for the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize, powered by Adrian Grenier’s 52HZ. This million-dollar competition, tied to a three-year accelerator program, will create and adopt alternatives to thin-film plastic — the material used in over 300 billion non-recyclable polybags every year.
“I want to see a science-informed society making better choices around building a regenerative future,” Washington says of her role as a judge in the competition (though it could also double as her overarching mission statement). “A future that’s for all of us.”
A first-generation Jamaican-American, Washington has a B.Sc. in Marine Science Biology, speaks around the globe about ocean science, and hosts podcasts and science-based TV Shows like Xploration Nature Knows Best, an educational TV series featuring innovations in clean technology and design, making her the first Black woman to host a nationally syndicated science show in the US. All of this is by design. Growing up in Miami, she grew curious about the ocean at seven-years-old. From that point on, her focus never wavered — though there have been obstacles along the path.
“I think the biggest challenge is being underestimated because I’m a Black woman,” Washington says. “I walk into a room and immediately people think, ‘Oh, she doesn’t have the skillset. She doesn’t have the knowledge.’ At this point in my life, I’m just used to it, and I’m excited to prove them wrong. It’s fuel for my fire. It always has been.”
Washington’s mom, Michelle, recognized her passion early and moved so that her daughter could attend a marine science magnet program. The school gave her a jumping-off point to launch her career arc. She celebrated her high school graduation by getting her diving certification, which she used to help land an internship studying great white sharks in South Africa, her first solo trip.
At the end of the project, Washington moved on to the University of Miami — becoming the first in her family to graduate from college. There, her mindset was to take every opportunity she could get her hands on.
“Get experience,” she says. “You have to find a way, and you can’t expect anyone to give that to you. You have to work and put in an effort.”
Witnessing a lack of representation firsthand, Washington set out on an unconventional path for a marine biologist after her graduation, deciding to focus on ocean science education, especially for girls and BIPOC youth. After winning a $10,000 grant from the surf brand Roxy, in 2008, she and her mom co-founded the ocean conservation non-profit Big Blue and You. The foundation is dedicated to sparking conversations about ocean conservation in young people through art, science, and media.
“The ocean absolutely has that power and that magic,” Washington says. “All I want is for everyone to experience it because then everyone would be inspired and want to protect it. It just begins with exposure.”
In 2011, at the historic Virginia Keys Beach Park in Miami — established in 1945 by the Black community as a response to segregation — Big Blue and You launched Art by the Sea. The now annual event encourages local marine scientists and students to come together at the beach and collaborate with local artists. It’s since expanded globally. Last summer, a coalition of organizations, led by Big Blue and You, supported students as they campaigned to convince more than 40 restaurants in Miami Beach to stop using single-use plastics.
“We can confidently say that we’ve just helped take 1.2 million pounds of trash out of the waste stream,” Washington says.
To extend her mission even further, Washington recently authored Bold Women in Science, exploring the paths of different trailblazing women in STEM. The message is clear: we can all be leaders in climate action. It’s about making decisions that benefit the planet and our shared sustainable future.
Is the work hard? Absolutely. Washington doesn’t sugarcoat it.
“There are moments where I sporadically break out in tears just because of the weight of it all,” she says.
Still, she preserves.
“I don’t like people telling me what I can’t do when they don’t even know me.”
Clearly, Washington’s mentality is unapologetically fierce. And the world’s oceans are better off for it.