This past July, we spoke with Danni Washington, the Executive Director and one of the co-founders of Big Blue & You on the importance of making waves. With four different initiatives, Big Blue & You is educating the next generation on how to use arts, science, and media as weapons of change in the name of conservation.
Big Blue Crew
The Big Blue Crew is a community of advocates who are passionate about inspiring others to protect the ocean. There are crew members here in the states as well as all over the globe: from the Netherlands to Bermuda to Kenya.
- Can you tell us a little bit about how the Big Blue Crew came to be and what some of the crew’s campaigns/achievements are?
The Big Blue Crew is a community of ocean activists with members in the United States, Netherlands, Kenya, and the Bahamas. In 2021, Big Blue & You partnered with Ocean Conservancy and Debris Free Oceans to pilot a new direct service program for Miami crew members to advocate to local businesses to stop using single-use plastic. Partnering with a local high school named D.A.S. H. (Design and Architecture Senior High), we started a new cohort of Big Blue Crew members who were an integral part of the Shores Forward Initiative. Our Big Blue Crew members surveyed establishments such as restaurants and vendors to use more ocean-friendly products and stop using single-use plastics, becoming eco-consultants and informing decision-makers about sustainable alternatives. We are happy to announce that the Big Blue Crew signed up 13 businesses in less than a month, and had many more pledging to switch within the next few months.
Other than the successes we’ve seen with the Shores Forward program, the Big Blue Crew lead the way in their own communities from beach clean-ups to ocean advocacy to help protect the big blue.
- What makes this community so strong?
- The Big Blue Crew community is strong because we all have one goal in mind: to protect the big blue. We are a community of ocean lovers and ocean warriors and we’ve been collectively working on numerous projects to make our planet healthy for future generations. These projects range from eliminating single-use plastics in cities, community education and outreach, beach clean-ups, and even removal of pesky lionfish on our reefs - just to name a few! Our community is truly unique and is generating waves of momentum for our oceans.
Art by the Sea
Big Blue & You Art by the Sea Festivals, which have been held since 2011 have been attended by more than 3,000 people and are supported by 100 volunteers and 40 community partner organizations/businesses. The event has been held at Miami’s Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, which was established in 1945 by African Americans in response to segregation and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
- We know BB&Y have started holding pop-up Art by the Sea Fests (pre-covid). Can you tell us a little bit about the 2019 even in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands?
- Big Blue & You and longtime partner Pangeaseed Foundation hosted a series of marine conservation workshops at the Caribbean Museum Center for the Arts for children ages 8 to 13 years old. The event was held in the town of Frederiksted, St. Croix USVI from December 9-13 alongside 15 international, regional and local artists to create purpose-driven ocean environmental murals and art installations in strategic locations on the island in an effort to support the revitalization efforts post-Hurricane Maria. In addition, Pangeaseed Foundation in partnership with Clean Sweep Frederiksted, hosted a series of community events, including film screenings, panel discussions, youth workshops, beach clean-ups, citizen science excursions, and more, all to engage the public. [You can check out Big Blue & You x PangeaSeed Foundation ArtSea Pop-Up here.]
- Are there plans to bring back Art by the Sea events once Covid is no longer running rampant?
- Our Team has begun to discuss bringing back Art By The Sea, however, we want to ensure everyone’s safety should we move forward, so we are closely monitoring the CDC Guidelines and hope to be back very soon!
Sea Youth Rise Up
BB&Y, with the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit (YOCS) and the Ocean Project (TOP), founded Sea Youth Rise Up in 2016. Since then, the goal has been to train youth leaders in ocean advocacy and host their annual participation at National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s Ocean Week in Washington, DC, every June (pre-Covid).
- How did this incredible collaboration with YOCS and TOP come about and how can people join the delegation that goes and talks to national leaders?
- The idea came about discussions with Sean Russell, founder of the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, and Bill Mott, Executive Director of The Ocean Project who has been a lead global coordinator of World Oceans Day. Bill wanted to create a program to get more youth involved with ocean policy. From that idea, we raised funds, created an application process that included asking applicants to submit a Youtube video, and we ended up working with the UN for World Ocean Days events as well as Capitol Hill Oceans Week that is run by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.
- Have any changes come from these campaigns at Capitol Hill?
- 2016 was a year that SYRUP played an influential role in the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Our 2016 cohort of youth delegates met with CEQ (Council on Environmental Quality) under President Obama and established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. It was a huge win.
- One of our biggest achievements is helping today's youth use their voices to help with ocean policy. So many of our past delegates have gone on to do amazing things like Baylee Ritter, who started her plastic-free shop called Everyone’s Collective, Melati Wijsen, who started Bye Bye Plastic Bags, a campaign to make Bali plastic bag free, Hannah Testa, who is a published author with her book Taking on the Plastics Crisis, and Apurva Iyengar who Youthify started a global youth-led platform dedicated to connecting Gen Z environmentalists for collaboration & support. [Check out Sea Youth Rise Up 2019 delegation's visit to Washington DC here.]
Ocean Heroes Bootcamp is a youth advocacy training program that transitioned to virtual in 2020, which was originated by Lonely Whale and the Captain Planet Foundation in 2018. Every year, Danni (Big Blue & You’s Co-Founder/Executive Director), representing BB&Y has trained over 500 youth, ages 11-18, on communication strategies to help fight plastic pollution!
- Danni, how does it feel to talk to the next generation of game-changers when it comes to ocean conservation?
- “As we collectively aim to solve global challenges like climate change, ocean pollution & other environmental injustices, it's important that we create a clear line of communication between the general public and the science community. As a science communicator, I aim to be an effective catalyst that can help facilitate this essential connection for the sake of an inclusive, intersectional and just future for all.” - Danni Washington
- Are you hopeful for what’s to come?
- We are always hopeful for a positive outcome and will continue to inspire, educate and most of all empower Youth Leaders who are truly making environmental changes in their community!