The pair recently completed a successful crowdfunding venture to distribute a DVD of the series and accompanying book free into every school throughout the country and the Cook Islands.
We spoke to the pair about the show, what drives them and the scariest thing under the water.
Can you tell us what Young Ocean Explorers is?
Riley: Young Ocean Explorers is a series of little five minute episodes that I present. I go out on adventures with my dad in the ocean and show kids how exciting New Zealand’s underwater world is. I tell them information but they don’t really realise they’re learning. It’s really fun.
Steve: We call it entertaining education.
What gave you the idea for the series?
Riley: I had to do a project for school about preserving the ocean. I wanted to do something about turtles and plastic because I’d seen something on the news. I said ‘Dad, could I interview your friend Dan Godoy’, who is New Zealand’s top turtle expert. Dad rang him and we got him around.
We filmed me asking him questions I thought my audience, which was my 10-year-old brother’s class, would like to hear and Dad put that together with footage of turtles and we made a seven minute video.
I showed it to my brother’s class and they loved it! No one was talking during it, they were all like ‘wow’. Dad said to me afterwards that he thought it was going to die very quickly. But they all had something to say afterwards. They all just loved it.
Steve: From my perspective I didn’t expect that incredible response. It wasn’t a cleverly cut video. It had beautiful underwater footage but it was roughly thrown together. But watching the engagement with the kids and how wide their eyes were, they were just totally fixated on it, I realised that this was powerful. When you’ve got a kid doing the interviewing, other kids want to hear that. And seeing the beautiful images and hearing cool facts. It’s very compelling.
What first attracted you to the ocean, Riley?
Riley: Dad’s been doing stuff in the ocean, filming, spear fishing and taking us out on the boat, for as long as I can remember. I’ve just grown up with it. But recently, doing that project for school, finding out about all that stuff I hadn’t really looked into, like the turtles eating plastic and the shark finning and all that horrible stuff that goes on. It really opened my eyes. I want to protect these beautiful creatures and the ocean. I want to make the most of it and show everyone.
The abundance of plastic in the ocean and shark finning are heavy topics.
Steve: They’re heavy topics but we’ve intentionally done stories that are fun. We’ve intentionally done it in such a way that it’s a celebration of what’s incredible, what’s magnificent. We want to get the kids engaged and emotionally attached so that they want to look after it.
Rather than telling them that the world’s stuffed, the ocean’s stuffed and they have to go and pick up plastic, we don’t need to say that. In the episode about the turtles, they see a turtle in a necropsy with 500 pieces of plastic taken from its stomach. That’s life changing stuff. When they’ve seen how beautiful the ocean is and learnt some amazing facts you don’t actually have to talk about that stuff for very long.
What do you want to achieve with the series?
Riley: I want to let people know about what’s underneath the water. It’s so incredible. 93% of New Zealand is underwater. That’s… that’s… quite big! I still can’t get over it.
Some people don’t get to go and see what’s under there. I want to share with the people who don’t have that chance and let them know about it and let them learn about it and show them not to be scared about it as well.
Steve: We’re not trying to make out that Riley is some rock star kid. She’s got some very real fears. In one episode Riley swam with her first shark.
Riley: I was a bit scared at first.
Steve: And that’s cool. We want people to see Riley is a normal kid and to inspire other kids to think, ‘far out, that looks amazing I want to give it a go’. We don’t want them to live through Riley’s eyes. I’m really hoping kids will nag their parents and go, ‘that looks awesome! I want to go to snorkelling.’ That’s my aim. I want to make diving and snorkelling cool again.
This story was originally reported in our AA Directions Summer 2014 issue.
Reported for our AA Directions Autumn 2020 issue