DANIEL SCHNEIDER Lunch at Chaya in Downtown Los Angeles with a marine biologist who’s trying to change the world WORDS: Marina Kay
IMAGES: Vincent Long
Last year, marine biologist Daniel Schneider visited Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest living organism. The news he brought back from the Unesco World Heritage Site was devastating. “Most of what I saw was bleached and about 25 per cent of the reef looked like this,” he says, pointing to the pristine white linen covering our table. Corals starve when the ocean absorbs too much carbon dioxide from excessive fossil-fuel burning, causing water temperatures to rise, leading to higher acidity, and then bleaching. “You don’t understand that a coral is dying until you’re shown what it looked like before,” he tells me, referencing the recent must-watch documentary Chasing Coral, which does a good job of doing just that. “And that’s not even the worst part of the ocean – it’s the plastics causing this acidification also. And microplastics getting dumped in there.” I meet Schneider at FrenchAsian fusion restaurant Chaya in Downtown LA. He’s just back from a shark diving expedition with clients in Los Cabos, Mexico, and the beautiful dining room, backed by a stunning 10-metre hand-painted landscape mural by Japanese artist Ajioka, bustles with the local work 40 / OPEN SKIES
crowd during the lunchtime rush. A quick scroll through Schneider’s Twitter feed @BiologistDan shows his longstanding concern for our changing planet and how interdependent we are on its survival. In April 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders retweeted one of Schneider’s posts about global warming, and added Schneider to his followers list. “That’s when my followers began to spike,” he says. “Looking back, it’s funny because a single tweet today gets 10 times the views it did back then.” After earning a bachelor’s degree in molecular evolution, Schneider began working as a lab director for a biotech company doing cancer research. At the same time he was leading whale-watching tours in Boston for a company called Mass Bay Lines. It took him four years to realise that he wasn’t an “indoor” biologist and more and more clients began requesting private dives. Around that time, he was approached by the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) channel to comment on whales, and was getting hired to do talks, too. Seven years ago, Schneider started his own Boston-based company. His current day-to-day involves taking clients on environmental and ecoEmirates operates a daily A380 service to Los Angeles.
dive tours, coordinating corporate retreats, doing background checks on information packets for nonprofits including Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and fact checking educational literature. “Right now I’m reviewing a textbook on sharks by a professor from Johns Hopkins,” he reveals. Our lunch arrives, presented beautifully in bento boxes, the square compartments filled with a selection of stylishly crafted morsels: a California sushi roll; grilled sea bream with broccolini, sauteed Brussels sprouts and chili miso; grilled chicken breast with sugar snap peas, tuna, yellowtail, salmon nigiri and scallop ceviche, the list goes on. A whole grilled black sea bream completes our table
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