Don't worry if you missed the secret memo; we missed it, too. I'm talking about the one that seems to be circulating among billionaires rallying them to defend the oceans. How else to explain the growing list of mega-funders who've jumped into marine research and advocacy in recent years: Paul Allen, Michael Bloomberg, Lyda Hill, Eric Schmidt, James Simons, Ted Waitt, and Hansjörg Wyss. (Click the links for our coverage of ocean-related donations.)
Now you can add another name to the list: Ray Dalio.
The transcendentally meditating hedge fund founder is worth more than $15 billion and has recently been stepping up his giving in a big way. In 2012, the Dalio Foudation held around $600 million in assets. Now that number has soared to around $842 million. It also gave away more than $100 million in 2013, and again in 2014, revealing a major grantmaking operation. Dalio spreads his money around in a variety of causes including education, global development, and mental health, but the environment has always been a key issue for this funder, even back when it was the modest Dalio Family Foundation.
In earlier years, much of Dalio's environmental philanthropy was regional. A trail of grantmaking revealed outfits such as Camp Fire Conservation Fund, the Greenwich Land Trust, and Central Park Conservancy.
But that was before Dalio got the secret memo and joined other billionaires in saving the oceans.
In 2013, the Dalio Foundation gave over $5 million to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a nonprofit research and higher education organization that studies marine science and engineering, with more modest sums going to the Ocean Foundation, and Oceana. Gifts in previous years have shown that Dalio is interested in marine conservation, but he's taking things to a new level.
Dalio even owns a research yacht, Alucia, which appeared on the Discovery Channel during Shark Week and is equipped with a submarine. Looking for giant squid has been one mission.
Dalio isn't the only billionaire with a research vessel. Eric Schmidt has one, too, as we've discussed in the past. Paul Allen's super-yacht, Octopus, has also been used for research and is equipped with two submarines that can explore deep underwater.
The Dalio Foundation recently set up the Dalio Explore Fund. While the exact mandate of the fund remains unclear, we know major money has gone through the fund toward various environmental and scientific research projects. In fact, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is one major site of the Dalio Explore Fund. At around the same time that the Hubble Telescope project was launched 25 or so years ago, Cabell Davis, a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was thinking about how humans could expand their view into another unknown—the ocean.
Davis pioneered the Video Plankton Recorder or VPR, which is set to make a historic voyage, "journeying almost 8,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, to illuminate an unexplored universe of plankton." Some of this work is supported by the Dalio Explore Fund, which gives you an idea of the kind of innovative and transformative environmental research projects Dalio is looking for.
The fund also appears to have supported several other Woods Hole projects including a study of nitrogen cycling in coral reefs, and a study of remote penguin supercolonies in 2014, helmed by a Woods Hole guest scientist.
But Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution isn't the only beneficiary of the Dalio Explore Fund. In a recent year, $10 million went to the National Geographic Society toward a Dalio Explore Fund at that outfit, while $7.5 million went to John's Hopkins towards the fund there.
This demonstrates the wide variety of outfits that Dalio has supported through the fund, and what one might expect down the line. It's also definitely safe to say the Dalio Explore Fund is a high priority. Of course, consistent with Dalio, an exact description of what the fund is looking for is hard to come by. But that also holds true when it comes to the Dalio Foundation at large.
The Dalio Foundation has said, "The Dalios’ rate of giving has been increasing at a rate that is consistent with their rate of learning and their building up of their team... they expect this to continue.”
This means there's yet another funding area where Dalio will likely increase giving down the line.