051: Hanli Prinsloo/The Aquatic Significance

Hanli Prinsloo. Picture: Peter Marshall

“I will do anything for these creatures to remain wild and free, and for their environment to sustain them”.

I finally bagged a guest I’d been after for months when I welcomed Hanli Prinsloo onto the show for episode 051. Hanli is an ocean advocate, conservationist, writer and speaker who is the founder and executive director of I Am Water, an ocean conservation trust. She is also a freediver who enjoyed a decade long career at the top of the sport.

That’s the thumbnail sketch anyway, although it doesn’t really do justice to the sheer depth of Hanli’s vision. For Hanli, human wellbeing is intrinsically linked to an intense and close communion with nature, and she has dedicated her career to fulfilling this vision through the work of her trust, her talks and her writing.

Sevengill shark amid the kelp, South Africa. Picture: Peter Marshall

We met up in Cornwall in July 2018 at the Ocean Plastic Solutions Day organised by Finisterre and Surfers Against Sewage, and the next day sat down with a coffee to run the rule over her life and career. Some familiar themes in this one, which regular listeners will be well used to, particularly imposter syndrome and the corrosive power of self-imposed pressure. But there are also true moments on wonder as Hanli describes some of the transformative experiences she’s had in the ocean with some of our planet’s biggest creatures.

Dolphin games in the Bahamas. Photo: Peter Marshall

Hanli is definitely one of the most skilful communicators I’ve had the privilege of speaking to for the show, and the upshot is an episode brimming with positivity, inspiration and generosity. Huge, huge thanks to Hanli and Peter for being such great sports, and to Hanli in particular for taking the time to speak to me for the podcast.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Hanli on how we now see nature as a threat.

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Show Notes

  • Two month round the world trip.
  • The morning’s breath workshop.
  • “We take breathing for granted – and breathe quite badly as a result”.
  • The three stages of the mammalian dive reflex.
  • “The spleen is an organ that gets very little airtime”.
  • The last existing freediving communities.
  • How our attitude to nature has gradually changed for the worse.
  • The threads running through Hanli’s work, and where they originated from.
  • Starting I Am Water in 2010.
  • The importance of sharing experiences.
  • Hanli’s talk at Ocean Plastic Solutions Day.
  • The work of I Am Water.
  • Discovering freediving in Sweden – and instantly connecting.
  • The influence of Hanli’s upbringing on her desire to find a new way of telling stories.
  • The founder’s trap.
  • Peter’s role in helping to establish I Am Water.
  • Upending the cultural barriers involved in communing with nature.
  • “I’ve had to shift my idea of privilege”.
  • How interacting with nature affects childrens’ self esteem and mental wellbeing.
  • The importance of working with schools in low income communities.
  • Sharing opportunities for women and girls.
  • The I Am Water curriculum
  • Reaching 30,000 kids a year
  • Top five in the world within a year.
  • “Talent is a double-edged sword” – competing for ten years
  • The creeping effect of self-imposed pressure, the urge for self-validation and Imposter Syndrome.
  • Relief of hitting the mid-30s and realising the pressure can come off.
  • Peter’s positive influence.
  • Finding it hard to rest.
  • Having an affinity with animals from an early age.
  • Swimming with a pod of sperm whales.
  • A truly transformative experience with a pod of spinner dolphins
  • The sophistication of dolphin communication.
  • Finding a true sense of connection and purpose – and finding a way to open it up for other people.
  • I Am Water Ocean Travel.

Animals Mentioned

  • Elephant seals
  • Sperm whales
  • Horses
  • Barbel
  • Carp
  • Whale shark
  • Dolphins
  • Manta rays
  • Humpback whales
  • Sharks

Communities/People Mentioned

Places Mentioned

Companies/Organisations Mentioned