• Andrew Bangor-Jones

Introducing Our Nature Heroes: Henk van Dalen

Updated: May 31

One of the most amazing things about Secret Protectors Club is that our Secret Protectors get to meet so many cool and inspiring real life Nature Heroes who have dedicated their lives to protecting the planet.

One of those amazing Nature Heroes is Henk Van Dalen. Henk is Director at The Ocean Cleanup, a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to ridding the world's oceans of plastic. He is also a keen surfer and his motto is "don’t destroy what you came to enjoy". Wise words we’re sure you’ll agree!

So, let’s get to know this wonderful human being a bit more shall we?

Speaking with Henk is Masha Cheriakova, the Founder of Secret Protectors Club.

Masha: Hi Henk, why don’t you introduce yourself to our Nature Protectors.

Henk: I’m Henk van Dalen, Director Ocean at The Ocean Cleanup, an organisation which wants to have all the oceans free of plastic. We stop plastic from entering the oceans by cleaning the rivers and we take out all the plastics already in the ocean. I am responsible for cleaning the oceans; a garbageman at sea you could say!

Masha: We love to ask the question, how does nature remember you? This question is really about turning your perspective around and looking at the nature you have come into contact with in your life. Were you curious about nature as a child? Or disinterested as a teenager? Whatever answer comes up for you :)

Henk: Nature will remember me as the curious kid exploring the forests and beaches. Chasing seagulls at the beach (I don’t think they liked that!), kicking a football in the sea where the waves would always bring it back to me and swimming under water trying to catch a fish. I never actually managed to catch one with my bare hands, they were always smarter than me. Every time I wanted to go deeper into the sea, curious about what was out there yet also a bit scared about swimming too far from shore. The sea always looked after me though…

Young Henk

Masha: OK, so that’s how nature will remember you, how do you remember nature?

Henk: I have always lived near the sea. Enjoying fun times at the beach, swimming in the sea and being curious about all the sea life and birds you see there. I learned quickly that you should watch out for crabs and jellyfish, when they bite it really hurts! I started surfing when I was 16 years old and have enjoyed dancing with the waves ever since.

The ocean has many faces; she can be gentle, she can be stormy and angry, but she is always beautiful.

I really want to keep the oceans clean so we can keep having fun at the beach and in the sea.

Henk surfing

Masha: As a parent, do you experience challenges in passing on nature to your child?

Henk: We see that the curiosity is there, yet it competes with digital mediums which distract their attention away from the outdoors.

We don’t want to “pull” them into nature but a gentle push is helpful for them to appreciate the beauties of the outdoors more. Things such as climbing forests, playful nature education centers etc provide good initiatives and the kids love it once they are out there.

It would be great to see more of these initiatives that also can become a hype amongst the kids at school for example (go Secret Protectors Club!). In our childhood, we were mainly building hide-outs in the woods, playing outdoors, etc. Now we see a lot of kids heavily into gaming. We can imagine in the nearby future that it will be challenging to keep the balance between in- and outdoor interests intact.

Masha: How do you personally connect with nature on a daily basis?

Henk: I run a lot outdoors. Almost every morning before my family wakes up, I go for an outdoor run. I love running through the woods and dunes. Not many people are awake at this time of day, and you can still spot quite a bit of wildlife. Rabbits, birds and occasionally a fox or a deer. An early morning surf at Scheveningen with a rising sun behind the lighthouse and the city slowly waking up is also great.

With the working from home situation, I have also started to do all my calls and meetings walking outside.

It is great to think and talk about work whilst you are enjoying a nice walk in the forest.

Henk with his family

Masha: Do you have any tips for other parents who want to create a closer connection to nature for their children?


First of all, lead by example – keep the child in yourself alive!

Remain to be curious about the outdoors. Follow an ant trail, climb in trees, swim in the sea when it is cold, go outside when it rains…continue to do the things you enjoyed as a child and involve your kids with it. This will keep you very young at heart as well as a bonus.

Secondly, difficult as it is, do not try to force it but try to engage with them by finding a connection with their interests. It should always be thought of as fun to be outdoors and explore nature. For example, my daughter loves taking care of her dolls and playing mother-daughter, so I can get her interest by explaining how wildlife also have families or how birds take care of their eggs. She finds this fascinating, and I also hear her telling things she has learned to her friends sometimes.

Finally, keep telling them stories of your childhood and the fun you had playing in nature. Even made-up stories about wild animals or outdoor adventures. Kids love stories and every so often they will hear something that inspires them.

Masha: How would you envisage a world where all kids are Secret Protectors?

Henk: A world in which we respect and nurture our mother earth. We do not take her beauty for granted and we give back to her after years of taking. The children, all Secret Protectors by then of course, understand the importance and interdependency of nature and use this knowledge to educate themselves further in how they can create a lasting impact. They build on each other’s energy and use this to convince the non-believers to better their ways. We all have fun outdoors in a respectable way and we don’t destroy what we came to enjoy! I hope we can start working to make this a reality very soon…

Masha: And finally, why is Secret Protectors Club important to you?

Henk: As a father, I want the best for my children and their future. As a human, I want the best for our species and our planet. The way the world has developed, I am concerned that the focus has shifted far too much to economic growth and self-centered thinking. The planet and mankind are suffering because of this.

Secret Protectors Club is a great initiative that can inspire and educate children to put nature as one of the most important pillars in our society. Have fun and learn, become fascinated about the beauties of mother nature. Let’s do this!

🌱 To make sure that Henk & Secret Protectors Club mission reaches as many kids as possible, make sure to support our Kickstarter campaign!

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