After $3M to Oceana, Where Will Leo’s Next Round of Conservation Funding Go?

After his record-breaking charity art auction raised $38.8 million for environmental causes, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation made its second grant with the funds—$3 million to the international conservation group Oceana. That makes $6 million down, $32.8 million to go.

Oceana recently announced it would receive a $3 million donation from the Oscar nominee’s foundation, which is housed within the California Community Foundation, and has funded environmental causes since 1998. DiCaprio has long been an active environmentalist, working alongside Al Gore on climate change awareness and even producing a documentary film on environmental devastation, The 11th Hour.  

But Leo joined the big leagues in terms of green philanthropy in 2013, when he organized a celebrity art auction at Christie’s to support his foundation’s work, nearly doubling the anticipated haul by selling 33 pieces of art, many of which were created specifically for the event.

The first donation DiCaprio’s foundation made since the auction was $3 million in November to a favorite nonprofit of his, the World Wildlife Fund, for a campaign to restore the population of the wild tiger in Nepal. 

The Oceana grant announcement came late last week, and will provide funding over three years for the marine conservation group’s efforts to protect the waters from southern Chile to Alaska. The funding will focus in particular on efforts to ban drift gillnets, which catch and kill many non-targeted species like whales, dolphins and sea turtles.

If the Oceana and WWF grants are any indicator of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s plans for future giving, we’ll likely see more big grants to the global heavyweights of conservation and climate change. Oceana is the largest international organization focusing entirely on oceans. And the WWF had a budget of $266 million last year. It wouldn’t be surprising to see significantly more funding headed toward the WWF, where the foundation’s Executive Director Justin Winters serves on the National Council and DiCaprio on the board of directors. The NRDC is another very likely candidate, as DiCaprio serves on the board there as well. 

As far as specific causes go, the foundation in the past has backed efforts to protect rain forests in Sumatra, provide clean water access in Africa, and establish marine reserves in Antarctica. Another safe bet on where future funds will go is efforts to stop ivory poaching and trafficking. The foundation, led by DiCaprio and Justin Winters, pushed efforts to ban ivory trade in Thailand last year. One candidate for future giving would be the International Fund for Animal Welfare, a big player that DiCaprio is involved with. And with DiCaprio's involvement in climate change awareness, we can almost certainly expect a pivot at some point to energy issues. 

We can also look toward Winters’ other interests. She serves on the National Council of the WWF, but she’s also on the board of Mark Ruffalo’s clean energy initiative The Solutions Project. Winters is also involved in a coalition effort by the Earth Island Institute to reduce plastic pollution, a highly popular West Coast cause right now.

It’s not clear at this point whether the foundation plans to distribute the entire chunk of funding from the art auction on any particular timeline, but the two big grants within a few months suggests DiCaprio and Winters aren't wasting any time. Expect a lot more activity in the near future from the actor and his foundation.