The Funders Behind NatGeo’s Huge Marine Preserve Plan

The marine conservation world just scored a big win yesterday when President Obama announced the creation of the world's largest marine preserve, in the Pacific Ocean. 

But more victories may lie ahead, thanks to the National Geographic Society, which just announced that it will spend the next five years campaigning to protect a species-rich marine area comprising 770,000 square miles—combined, that’s about the size of Mexico. A few huge marine funders are on board.

With a little help from good old William Jefferson Clinton himself (what a warm and cuddly post-presidency that guy has had), the National Geographic Society announced this week that it would be extending its Pristine Seas campaign, an effort that began in 2009 with a goal of establishing protected marine areas. The program, which is led by marine ecologist Enric Sala, seeks to protect the world’s most pristine marine ecosystems through exploration, media and policy.

The model calls for Sala’s team to lead and publicize expeditions in some of the most remote marine areas to conduct research and then push for their protection. The program has financed 10 expeditions so far, and cites more than 150,000 square miles of protected areas influenced by the work. 

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Now NatGeo is extending the program another five years, but upping the ante by shooting for 770,000 square miles of ocean in 20 new locations, which, if I get my trusty calculator out, is five times what it’s done so far. Pretty serious business. But you know, aside from conjuring images of monocle-wearing explorers and Sunday afternoon documentaries, National Geographic is one of the largest research and education nonprofits in the country. And, as is so often the case with such projects, the partnerships will be key. That includes funders, of course. 

While the program has not detailed the breakdown of funding, it does name a number of interesting foundations as partners.

First off, you’ve got everyone’s favorite Scorsese leading man, sporting a new beard and sort of ponytail-bun thing at the U.N. climate change summit. Leonardo DiCaprio has been on a roll, between his art auction that raised $38.8 million, his recent gala that raised $25 million, and a set of multi-million-dollar grants to ocean conservation and wildlife. So it’s no surprise he’d be involved in the NatGeo project.

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Another big funder involved is the Helmsley Charitable Trust, which has a place-based conservation program that homes in on a handful of specific regions. Helmsley has funded National Geographic in the past, but the funder in May posted a $3 million, three-year grant to the group, earmarked for the Pristine Seas project. 

The other major American foundation attached to the project is the Waitt Foundation, with an ocean conservation program pretty much entirely devoted to establishing marine protected areas. The funder has an ongoing grants program with NatGeo, which has provided nearly $3.5 million for 300 field projects. Waitt has also backed the Society’s Pristine Seas work from the beginning as part of the Mission Blue collaborative.

Related: Gateway’s Ted Waitt Backs Marine Protected Areas

And then there are some other curious partners lined up, such as Prince Albert of Monaco, President José María Figueres of Costa Rica, the cologne company Davidoff Cool Water (a little on the nose, guys), and the foundation of the Hong Kong-based investment firm Jynwel Capital. Learn more about the project here.