Can Better Data Help Save the Oceans? This Big Foundation Thinks So

Data and oceans are two of the biggest topics in philanthropy these days, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is a leader in both. One of its latest grants targets the intersection of the two, just off the Mid-Atlantic coast.

The foundation recently awarded $1.6 million to Monmouth University in support of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal, a collaborative project to pool together data and mapping into one tool that can serve all kinds of oceans stakeholders in the region. It’s a nifty tool that's easy to use. In fact, public access is a big part of its purpose. 

Government agencies, industry, researchers, and the general public can visualize all kinds of data on an interactive map of the Mid-Atlantic, including fishing activity, energy and renewable energy sources both planned and existing, marine habitats, even national security information like dangerous and restricted areas. The map is user-friendly, but visitors can also dig right into the raw data that the portal collects and updates. 

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The portal is highly collaborative, with Monmouth just one partner in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO), which includes other universities and the Nature Conservancy. It was actually motivated by the fact that, with such threats and demands pressing on the ocean as climate change, pollution, and fishery depletion, there needed to be a holding tank of information that multiple state agencies and stakeholders could rely upon for planning.  

The attraction for Moore is this combination of marine conservation, and providing data-driven tools that are open for many possible users to play with. On the former front, Moore has more than one subprogram devoted to marine work in both its research and environment programs. And one of its unique subprograms in research is Data Driven Discovery, which helps researchers apply data analysis to their problems, including development of new tools. Open access is a thread that runs through a lot of these grants.

Related: The New Recruits in Moore’s Huge Data Program

As we build up more and more stores of information about our oceans, it’s a far bigger body than any one agency or nonprofit could put to proper use. Projects like the Data Portal allow this information to exist outside of state borders or different sectors.

This isn’t the first grant Moore has given for this project, as it gave $1.6 million to Monmouth for the same work, and $2.1 million toward MARCO in 2014.

The grant is reminiscent of another project, a bit further north and funded by the MacArthur Foundation, for WHOI’s collaborative work to collect and share information on the effects of climate change in the Northeast.  

Related: MacArthur Funds Team Bracing for Climate Change on the East Coast