Tech Titans’ Philanthropy Puts Oceans Front and Center

Mareesa Nicosia Energy Solutions

Tech Titans’ Philanthropy Puts Oceans Front and Center
Hubert Neufeld on Unsplash

While the ocean covers more than 70% of the earth's surface, the precious global resource receives just a fraction of all philanthropic funding—less than 1% since 2009, according to, an effort by the nonprofit Foundation Center to track ocean conservation philanthropy.

Titans of the technology and finance sectors, however, are increasingly committing resources to help solve the biggest problems facing our oceans, include warming temperatures, overfishing, and ocean acidification from increased carbon emissions.

Whether it’s funding a state-of-the-art research and media vessel to explore and document what’s happening in the oceans, à la the OceanX initiative led by Dalio Philanthropies, or partnering directly with altruistic third-parties to clean up ocean pollution, there are a number of ways philanthropists with technology backgrounds are involved in ocean-related causes.

Penta highlights a few notable recent efforts.

Marc and Lynne Benioff

The Bay Area power couple—Marc Benioff is CEO of cloud computing company Salesforce, and Lynne’s philanthropic efforts have focused on health care and anti-homelessness causes—recently gifted $1.5 million to the Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA). The global nonprofit works to advance the impact of young leaders who are developing solutions to protect and rehabilitate the ocean.

The Benioffs’ contribution will triple the number of startups that are selected to participate in SOA’s second annual Ocean Solutions Accelerator program, scheduled this summer in San Francisco. The startups will receive mentorship from leading experts in Silicon Valley, present to investors and philanthropists at SOA’s Ocean Tech Demo Day on Aug. 15, and have the opportunity to be featured at a series of major international summits on the ocean, according to the SOA website.

“Our oceans are in grave danger, due to the many consequences of climate change and pollution. These challenges can be solved with investment and innovation,” Marc Benioff said in a statement announcing the gift in January.

The support follows the couple’s establishment of the Benioff Ocean Initiative in 2016 to study and solve ocean issues around the world. They support the World Economic Forum’s Friends of Ocean Action, a global partnership to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources, and have contributed to The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit that aims to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.

Bloomberg Philanthropies

Former New York City Mayor and media mogul Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic foundation has dedicated some $140 million to ocean conservation efforts since 2014. His organization launched the Vibrant Oceans Initiative in 2014 with an investment of $54 million through 2018. A second investment of $86 million was announced in September 2018 for work through 2021, a spokeswoman told Penta.

The funding currently supports a multi-phase project in 10 countries to reform local and industrial fishing practices and protect critical marine areas, specifically the vulnerable coral reefs. Phase one, from 2014 to 2018, targeted Brazil, Chile, and the Philippines—three of the world’s most critical fishing-industry nations. In four years, the foundation’s work with partner organizations to limit overfishing and enforce those resulted in 390% growth in coastal fish populations in those countries.

“The approach of setting aside these local fishing reserves and enforcing them and combining that with national policy is really working and we’ve seen it spreading now, organically, through these countries,” says Antha Williams, head of the Environment program at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

David Packard, the late co-founder of Hewlett-Packard computers, now known as HP, and his wife Lucile, committed more than $550 million through 2021 to advance ocean science, protection and effective management through their eponymous foundation.

The investment, which the foundation announced in 2016, includes $40 million in grants each year through 2021, as well as an estimated $350 million over five years for support of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. (The Packards’ daughter, Julie Packard, is chair of the board for the research institute and executive director of the aquarium.)

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