Behind Cargill's Focus on Coral Reefs

Margaret A. Cargill, heir to the Midwestern grain conglomerate, spent her life anonymously giving away millions, earning her the nickname "the silent philanthropist." But the foundation in her name has made a big splash in recent years, becoming a major funder and showing an early interest in conservation of marine ecosystems in the Pacific. (See Margaret Cargill Foundation: Grants for Marine and River Conservation)

Since her death in 2006, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation has been ramping up to becoming one of the largest funders in the region and the country, and in 2011 took off with $141 million in grants (up from just $10 million the year before). With $2.5 billion in assets, it will continue to be a huge funder, with an environment program that seems to be making coral reefs in the Pacific a big priority.

The foundation has seven program areas, and has given to hundreds of grantees in its short existence. Within Cargill's Environment Program, two focus areas include some of the most delicate and diverse coral reef ecosystems in the world, located in the Western Pacific. (Read Cargill environment program director Alan Holt's IP profile).

First, the foundation has pledged to support the Micronesia Challenge, a multi-national effort to protect 6.7 million square kilometers containing 60% of the world’s coral species. Initiated by the government of Palau in 2006, the Micronesia Challenge seeks to protect 30% of the region's marine resources and 20% of its land resources by 2020.

Micronesia comprises thousands of islands in the Western Pacific and is home to 1,300 species of fish and 483 species of corral. In 2011, Cargill’s first year of major giving, it granted $250,000 to the Micronesia Conservation Trust.

Another region Cargill is focusing on, to the southwest of Micronesia, is the Sunda-Banda Seascape, an ecologically rich area in the Coral Triangle. The Triangle holds the highest diversity of corals, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and marine plant species on the planet, but is also heavily depended on by island populations, and is therefore at risk of overfishing.

Cargill has committed to strengthening and expanding the Marine Protected Areas in the region, as well as improving fisheries management.

As the new, quickly growing foundation continues to develop its program areas, it should be exciting to watch how they build on these crucial initiatives.