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“I couldn’t fathom how anyone would want to hurt these incredible creatures, when it was so wonderful to swim around them, explore them, learn about them,” he says. “And while this was before the popularity of the internet, I immersed myself in documentaries and books on fish - I sucked up all available information there was about the oceans and their marine life.”


After leaving school and spending time back in Germany working as a technical engineer, Daniel was ultimately drawn back to the sea. Gaining his dive licence at the age of 20 saw him head off to the Canary Islands, and his excitement at beginning an internship on the road to becoming a dive instructor was only stifled by the increasing marine destruction so evident around him. “It was all around - overfishing, dumping of rubbish, wash-off from building sites. I started to teach my students not only how to dive, but also educated them on the importance of marine life, and explained how they could protect our oceans. I developed into an ocean defender and advocate!”


A move to Australia followed and with it, first hand, the reality of the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. “A lot is said about physical damage from people and boats, but where the reef is concerned it is as much about the impact on the inner reef; so indirect effects that come from spraying pesticides on crops, where wind and rain washes these into the ocean.”


When arriving in Thailand in 2006 having taken the plunge and purchased a dive centre in Ao Nang called Poseidon, Daniel was clear in his mind that education wasn’t enough, and real proactivity was needed. “I jumped in the water and my jaw dropped – the colour, the diversity… it was like nothing I had seen before; but then so was the destruction. It was everything I had witnessed elsewhere, plus overpopulation, mass tourism, anchors, illegal fishing, abandoned fishing nets and cages, untreated waste water and more.”


Soon after, Daniel started The Ocean Project – an organisation driven to taking direct preventative and restorative action for our seas and oceans, harnessing the power and the potential of volunteers who could make a real difference to their local areas, no matter where they were. In the first instance this meant setting permanent anchor buoys so tour boats wouldn’t have to throw their anchor anymore, in the process destroying precious corals; he then began organising underwater clean-up days with the local government and the marine national park – removing everything from illegally set fishing cages, abandoned fishing nets to rubbish, especially single-use plastic – as well as continuing the rich education of teaching people how to dive. These days, Daniel’s project is now 15 years in and he is a veteran of over 10,000 dives. And while building a vision of the ocean is something cerebral, his work has also led him to accumulate stunning photographic memoirs of life underwater.


“I’d like to think my photography can drive people to our marine life conservation project, and vice versa. We need more education because nine out of 10 people will only ever see the surface - the white sandy beaches; and that gives the impression that all is well! Most people are either not interested or aren’t able to witness what’s going on underwater. Humans have depleted the oceans to the brink of extinction in the past 60 years, with better and bigger fishing fleets [about 4.6million, catching upwards of two trillion fish globally every year]; with 90% of all fish close to extinction or just on the edge of no return. When you have supertrawlers that cannot differentiate between too


small and not edible, producing a huge quantity of bycatch, with 40% discarded back overboard, usually dead, it’s clear action is needed.”


The Ocean Project, in 2021, aims to educate divers, students and guests. It builds artificial reefs, tends to wildlife rehabilitation and release, as well as replanting coral, setting permanent anchors, conducts clean-ups both in the same and on beaches, and even campaigns for proper fishing laws and regulations.


While Covid has severely hampered investment – both through reduced donations and a lack of tourists coming through the Dive Centre, Poseidon, Daniel’s proactivity means he is always looking for ways to compensate, and that’s where photography comes back in.


“It has always been a big part of my life, and documenting marine conservation visually is actually really important. It’s great that I can sell some of these pictures through The Ocean Project’s website, and 100% of the income goes to the organisation.”


66 | AUTUMN 2021 | ONBOARD


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