Schmidt Ocean Institute: Grants for Marine Conservation

OVERVIEW: The institute accepts applications to use both its cutting edge ocean vessel and its equipment to advance ocean research and exploration through innovation, technology, and open sharing of information. 

IP TAKE: As the U.S. research vessel fleet shrinks along with federal research funding, what SOI offers is perhaps more valuable than even unrestricted funds—a fully outfitted scientific research ship, equipment, and technical support. The institute accepts pre-applications, and prioritizes high-risk research and scientists willing to make their data public.

PROFILE: The Schmidt Ocean Institute seeks "to advance oceanographic research, discovery, and knowledge, and catalyze sharing of information about the oceans." Established by the Schmidt family, the Institute first purchased a steel-hulled German fishing boat, which they spent three years and $94 million rebuilding for research. The Schmidts named the boat the RV Falkor, after the luck dragon in the novel The Neverending Story. In 1995, there were 26 federally funded research vessels, but due to national spending cuts surrounding crucial research, there are now only 19 available. The institute selects researchers to come aboard for its research cruises, with no cost to the applicants other than the salaries of their teams. Aside from providing the boat itself, the cost of using this research vessel is $30,000 or more a day. 

To use the R/V Falkor, the institute invites applicants to submit a one-to-two page Expressions of Interest, much like a letter of inquiry. Then non-conflicted experts and advisers narrow inquiries to 25 to 30 candidates, which the insitute invites to send full proposals. Inquiries are evaluated on the probability of long-term impact, scalability, alignment with the institute’s interests, and the target regions for the upcoming year. Full proposals are evaluated by independent, field-specific experts, and a review panel of broader experts convene and rank the proposals. The Institute seeks projects that are higher risk than those federal funding tend to support. It also prioritizes researchers willing to make data and results from their studies available to the public. 

The research staff then selects the researchers who will join the team using the priority rankings, and chart a course for the year’s cruises. The ship facilitates about seven projects a year, and planning starts well ahead of schedule. Falkor has facilitated several compelling projects, which include Dr. Daniel Barshis study regarding how coral reefs cope with the effects of climate change in American Samoa, and Dr. Chris German, who led a team from WHOI to explore the planet’s deepest mid-ocean ridge, a chain of undersea volcanoes called the Mid-Cayman Rise, with a remote submersible. To see a full rundown of its past grantees and financials, click here.

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