What’s on the Horizon for Packard’s Oceans Funding?

Ah, the strategic update: that time-honored tradition in which grantees get nervous, consultants have their moments in the sun, and often, not a whole lot really changes. 

Okay, that’s a little cynical, and if funders directing hundreds of millions didn’t take some time now and then to kick their own tires and ask if what they’re doing is working, it would be a little troubling. And while a lot of inside baseball emerges from such reevaluations, they can yield real changes or at least formalize changes in funding priorities. 

So when a powerhouse in marine conservation like the David and Lucile Packard Foundation releases a new framework for its oceans giving, it’s good to pay attention. In this case, the foundation is charting out a 15-year framework, starting with a $550 million commitment to oceans issues in the next five years. Some of the initiatives are still being hammered out, but the foundation updated its website to reflect the big picture changes. Here are some things to note:

What Isn’t Changing

For starters, Packard’s enormous support to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s set to back the research center to the tune of $350 million over the next five years (remember, that’s out of $550 million in total ocean funding). The Packard family founded the aquarium and research center, and continues a major commitment to the outfit. 

Related: Packard's Pet Project Has Become a World Leader in Ocean Research

Some of the funder’s core approaches to marine conservation will also carry over. The previous program had five main components—the Gulf of California, Marine Birds, Marine Fisheries, the U.S. West Coast, and the Western Pacific. Now, the program is split between country-specific strategies and global strategies.

Packard will continue funding marine fisheries, but distributed throughout its programs and in the context of its global interest in markets for sustainable seafood. Packard is a big promoter of sustainable seafood on both the supply and demand sides, and that looks to be holding steady. The Marine Birds funding will carry over as one of its main priorities, now as a part of its “global” giving. 

The geography-based strategies are also continuing, with Gulf of California, U.S. West Coast, and Western Pacific focuses slightly changing contexts, as I explain next. 

Geographic Interests are Shifting

This appears to be the biggest formal change to Packard’s oceans giving. The map is changing a little, and while the broad strokes are largely the same, there are some formerly marginal areas that will now have their own dedicated strategies. So there are now six countries the foundation officially prioritizes—Mexico, the U.S., Chile, Indonesia, China and Japan. 

The historic Gulf of California work folds into a broader Mexico strategy; the old West Coast strategy will carry on strong in the U.S. strategy. Japan and Indonesia translate somewhat from the Western Pacific giving, although Japan is a new country-specific strategy. 

As far as the focuses on China and Chile, these are also relatively new on the scene. Both have received some funding from Packard in the past few years, but now they have their own country-specific ocean strategies. China, in particular, is notably new territory for Packard, where they’ll work at building capacity and leadership, and raising awareness about sustainable seafood. As China’s economy rises, we’re seeing a lot of U.S. funders looking that direction, and vice versa, and Packard’s the latest.

New Emphasis on Climate Change and Acidification

One other area receiving some elevated attention is climate change and ocean acidification. Packard has been a climate funder for some time now, and that work has rubbed up against its marine conservation funding, but it hasn’t been a major priority within its oceans grantmaking. 

The updated framework features climate change and ocean acidification as one of four global priorities, with a particularly science-y approach that emphasizes marine research on this “urgent, undeniable and existential threat.”

Related: The Many Foundations and Billionaires Trying to Fix the World’s Fisheries