Project Leader

Danny Copeland

Danny Copeland

Who I am

I have always loved learning about, understanding and experiencing all aspects of the natural world. However, a childhood of rock-pooling the beaches near my home town in North Wales and memories of gazing at fish in aquariums nurtured a particular affinity for life in the ocean. This transformed into more of an obsession once I took my first breaths underwater on scuba gear. During my first sea dive on a family holiday, we encountered a cuttlefish in an otherwise barren harbour in Malta. I often tell people that its crazy patterns and changing colours hypnotised me in some way, triggering a lifelong love affair with the sea.
My academic career both started and ended with my degree in zoology at the University of Sheffield. Throughout my landlocked studies, I spent every summer break flying to a new coast to work with marine conservation NGOs, including the Manta Trust and Marine Megafauna Foundation. I quickly realised that I particularly enjoyed communicating about their research as well as being part of it myself, and remained involved with the Manta Trust as its media and communications manager for several years. In 2015 I also became the OWUSS (Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society) European Rolex Scholar. My scholarship year focused primarily on understanding just how powerful storytelling and the strategic use of media and impact campaigns can be in the conservation process. That formative year set me on my current path, working on underwater productions and conservation projects as a (rather pretentiously) self-titled ‘multimedia specialist for the oceans’.

Where I work

I’m extremely fortunate that my work has taken me overseas and to distant shores: the Maldives, Tanzania, Antarctica, the Americas and St Helena to name a few! That said, the seas around the UK and Europe are where I have spent some of my favourite and most adventurous hours underwater.

The lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic and the growing climate crisis forced some introspection about my work. I began asking myself how I could use conservation media to help the underwater world on my doorstep. The Critically Endangered angelshark Squatina squatina can still be found in many areas where I grew up and first connected with the sea, including the Canary Islands and North Wales. Yet comparatively few people know or care about it, or its sawback and smoothback cousins. Thus, aiding their conservation through storytelling is just one small way I can help protect the seas closer to home. In addition to the Canary Islands, Wales and the UK, the film will focus on a few other key areas in the East Atlantic. The eventual impact campaign associated with this project will look to reach priority coastal communities across even more of the angelsharks’ range, from northern Europe and the Mediterranean down to south-western Africa and the thousands of miles of coastline in between.

What I do

I work on projects that place me at the intersection of storytelling, filmmaking and marine conservation impact. Telling stories about life beneath the waves, in ways that inspire people to take meaningful, tangible action to protect it, is what gives me a sense of purpose and drives me as a conservationist and filmmaker. This has seen me occupy various roles, from supporting feature films such as Netflix’s Chasing Coral and working as a one-man-band on multimedia assignments for NGOs to directing, producing and shooting my own 360VR and tourism campaigns to support mobulid ray and whale shark conservation. In 2018 I was selected as a Fellow for the International Wildlife Film Festival DocLabs programme, and more recently I’ve worked in dive support and editorial roles on blue-chip landmark wildlife series. Most notably, I’ve spent the past two-and-a-half years as an assistant producer-director on the BBC Natural History Unit’s Prehistoric Planet with Sir David Attenborough and AppleTV+, where we worked to bring the prehistoric seas back to life.

Despite the variety in my work, sharks and rays have remained a constant, particularly the gentle, unsuspecting and often underappreciated species. In learning about the angelshark, I found a growing fondness for a uniquely charismatic species hiding out along many of the shores of my youth, without me ever realising it was there. As I came to understand its plight more widely and the efforts of those already working to protect it, the Guardian Angels film project was born.

My project

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