Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation: Grants for Marine Conservation

OVERVIEW: The DiCaprio Foundation, overseen by the California Community Foundation, is becoming a major philanthropic player in conservation, wildlife and oceans, through grants and public education campaigns.  

IP TAKE: The foundation's marine conservation grantmaking is not restricted geographically, but prioritizes animals endangered by irresponsible fishing practices and poaching. 

PROFILE: Perennial Academy Award runner-up Leonardo DiCaprio has long been a devoted environmentalist, and founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998. The foundation, a component fund of the California Community Foundation, is dedicated to "the long-term health and well-being of all Earth's inhabitants." It supports projects across the globe that "build climate resiliency, protect vulnerable wildlife, and restore balance to threatened ecosystems and communities." The foundation invests in six programs: Wildlife and Landscape Conservation, Marine and Ocean Conservation, Climate Change, Indigenous Rights, Transforming California, and Innovative Solutions

The foundation's Marine and Ocean Conservation program is accelerating its efforts to "protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 through the creation and expansion of marine protected areas." It does so by creating MPAs (Marine Protected Areas), which permit "fish populations to rebound and increase the resilience of marine ecosystems, acting as a buffer against the damaging effects of climate change." The program also works toward constraining "overfishing and prevent[ing] the extinction of threatened marine species." In 2016, LDF and four other foundations have created a Global Partnership for Sharks and Rays (GPSR), which work to protect "these species through improved regulatory frameworks, campaigns to reduce demand for shark fins and strategic marine protected areas." Additionally, the Marine and Ocean program supports initiatives such as GlobalFishingWatch.org and the development of the first ever women’s ocean patrol team in the Raja Ampat Islands, which are combatting overfishing and working to protect fisheries. 

In the past, LDF awarded two prominent grants to the World Wildlife Fund and Oceana for $3 million each. The Oceana grant supported efforts to protect species in the Pacific, especially in relation to banning drift gillnets that are responsible for bycatch of species like turtles and whales. Oceana is the largest international advocacy group to work strictly on oceans. 

LDF tends to prioritizes large, established organizations. DiCaprio himself sits on the board of several such organizations. For instance, he sits on the board of WWF, the NRDC, and the International Fund for Animal Wlefare. While LDF does not prioritize specific marine species, it prioritizes grantmaking to iconic marine wildlife. LDF also targets regions and funds the Antarctic Ocean Alliance to establish a network of marine preserves.

Grants are generally larger, sometimes in the millions, and generally support established and iconic organizations. The best way for grantseekers to contact LDF is through its online inquiry form or through the California Community Foundation, or Executive Director Justin Winters. However, contacting celebrity funders like this one often requires serious networking, so consider discussing with staff or board members from other environmental players with which the team interacts, whether that is the WWF, NRDC, IFAW, or the Gorilla Organization. Winters is also affiliated with Mark Ruffalo's climate change initiative The Solutions Project, marine charity Oceans 5, and the Plastic Pollution Coalition.


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