How did you get into diving?
From an early age I was always interested in the natural world, spending my summers at activity camps run by my local zoo, and building a fairly impressive collection of dinosaur toys and fossil memorabilia (yeah, I was an especially cool kid…).
Over time, I gradually developed a particular interest in life underwater. Honestly, I was never really keen on swimming, but I loved holding my breath and swimming under the surface. My dad and uncle were keen anglers, my grandad built a boat made from concrete, and my childhood was spent rock-pooling (much to the horror of the local crab population!). So I guess it was kind of inevitable that the ocean would play a role in my life.
In my mid-teens my parents learnt to dive on holiday, so figured I might like to give it a go. My first breath underwater was at a pool in Centre Parks sometime around my 15th birthday. I found it so weird at first and really I wasn’t keen on it at all. My mind gradually changed over the following days and during a ‘Try Dive’ in a harbour in Malta a few months later, I had a memorable moment watching a lone cuttlefish flashing its colours at me. The encounter just blew my mind. I don’t know if the cephalopod sent me into a trance or something, but from then on I was hooked!
Tell us about your year as a Rolex Scholar
How do you condense one of the most formative years of your life into a few paragraphs?
Seriously - I struggle to properly describe how pivotal the scholarship year was for me. Up until that point I knew I wanted to have a career beneath the waves, but I just didn’t know exactly what kind of path I wanted to pursue. My default mindset was a career in science, but a life in academia just didn’t really appeal. I loved marine conservation, I loved travel, and I loved playing with cameras, but I had no idea how someone could make a career out of combining those things.
During the scholarship, I spent a year learning from and working alongside the world’s best image makers and conservationists; ranging from joining BBC cameramen on shoot for Blue Planet II, tagging sharks with leading scientists, filming bleaching events for the documentary Chasing Coral, and assisting an underwater photographer on assignment in the Revillagigedo Islands for National Geographic Magazine. I spent the year developing my understanding of how to reconnect people to the oceans, and how to drive them to take action to ensure its survival. Furthermore, my tenure as a Rolex Scholar helped me figure out what role I can play in all of that, and gave me an almighty leg-up in kickstarting my career as I passed the scholarship baton to the next young diver in line.
You're a bit of a VR and media guru. How does your work make a difference?
For most of my personal projects, I partner with fantastic charities and groups of people already working for our underwater world. That collaboration, and strategising together, plays a big role in whether the media I’m creating will make a difference.
On a more fundamental level, all the media work I do has one common element sitting at its core – change.
No matter what media project I’m developing, I always ask myself, “how am I using this new medium, these films, this imagery, this campaign, to help drive the change I want to see in the world? How does this project help us move towards a human population that loves the ocean, and proactively and sustainably conserves it for generations to come?” If I can’t honestly explain to myself how my latest project or idea will play even a small role in delivering that kind of change, then it’s back to the drawing board.
I think this mindset forming the base of every personal project I work on, plays a big role in whether my work ends up actually making a difference.
What is the most rewarding project you've worked on to date?
It has to be the ‘Love Mini Mantas’ campaign, which centred around the creation of a 360VR film called ‘The Mini Mantas of Maria.’
It was a rewarding project for me for so many reasons, but a few spring to mind in particular. From a technical point of view, it was my first foray into underwater 360 virtual reality, which has since become a niche that increasingly dominates the work I do. Secondly, it was done in collaboration with the Manta Trust – a charity and family of individuals that have played an enormous part in the last seven years of my life. It was immensely rewarding to play a role in their contribution to a big conservation win – devil rays gaining enhanced international protection from wildlife trade. Thirdly, this was my first self-led personal project after completing my Rolex Scholarship. After a year that transformed my understanding of conservation and the role I can play in it with media, it felt like it was time to practice what I preach. This was my first opportunity to demonstrate to others (and myself), that I wasn’t a total nutter, and there was some substance to this new unconventional career path I had chosen to follow.
What do you love most about the oceans?
I love experiencing how diverse and rich the different ecosystems are, and sharing that awesomeness with as many people as possible – be it through film, VR, verbally telling stories, or leading guided trips. Seriously, whether it’s an 0C dive on a rocky seabed in Antarctica, or a blue water dive with oceanic white tips in the Red Sea, it’s all totally and utterly incredible to me. Our oceans are alien worlds on our own planet, and it’s hard not to fall in love with them every time you visit.
What can people expect to experience on one of your trips?
People can expect so much more than just a run-of-the-mill dive holiday. The trips I’m leading are to some of the coolest, most unexplored or under-appreciated places in the world. We’re going to meet some of the oceans’ most charismatic inhabitants, and collectively learn more about them and the habitats they call home. Finally, we’re going to partner with some of the most passionate and knowledgeable people I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with, witness the amazing work they do to protect our oceans, whilst contributing to their efforts in the process.
My hope is that guests will come away more knowledgeable, more fulfilled, and ultimately more connected to the oceans, their inhabitants, and their conservation. If I can achieve that with every trip I run, then I will sleep easy knowing they are contributing to the change I want to see.
Take a look at Danny’s trip ‘St Helena in Style’ with Dive Worldwide, where he will lead a small group of divers to the remote island of St Helena to dive the waters and encounter the islands fascinating whale shark aggregations.