Trends in Philanthropic Funding

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    Level of Funding

    Philanthropic funding for marine conservation has doubled over the past decade, from roughly USD 520 million in 2010 to USD 1.2 billion in 2020.

    Philanthropic ocean-related grantmaking (2010–2020)

    Given recent methodological refinements, readers should reference this report for comprehensive 2010-2020 funding figures. Comparing results across previous editions of this report (i.e., version one in 2017 and version two in 2019) is not an apples-to-apples comparison. This edition includes a consistent methodology for estimating funding across the full time period of 2010-2020.

    Despite doubling in size by funding amount over the past decade, funding for ocean conservation remains a small proportion of total charitable giving for the environment. Total charitable giving in the United States totaled USD 450 billion in 2019. Total charitable giving for the environment and animals (including animal shelters and rights) represented roughly 3 percent of U.S.-based giving, at USD 14 billion in 2019. Of this amount, foundation funding for the ocean was USD 1 billion, or 7 percent of total funding for the environment and animals.

    Ratio of charitable giving for the ocean to total environment/animal funding in the United States (2019)

    Funder Entrances and Exits

    New entrants into the sector and growing commitments from existing funders are driving the increase in ocean funding over the past decade. New funders are expanding the resources available in support of marine conservation work globally and are poised to shape the ocean funding landscape. The number of unique marine funders identified in the Our Shared Seas database has roughly quadrupled—from an estimated 1,600 funders in 2020, up from 486 funders in 2010.

    Several existing funders have also expanded their commitments for marine conservation in recent years. For example, the Packard Foundation provided approximately USD 70 million in ocean-related grants in 2010 compared to roughly USD 130 million in 2020, while the Moore Foundation increased its ocean funding from USD 50 million to USD 90 million over the same timeframe.

    The exits of some players may leave gaps for other funders to fill. For example, the MAVA Foundation’s planned sunsetting in 2022 will reduce funding available to coastal Africa and the Mediterranean.

    Exits of ocean funders since 2010

    • Helmsley Charitable Trust
    • Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation
    • MacArthur Foundation
    • MAVA Foundation (exit planned for 2022)
    • Rockefeller Foundation
    • S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation
    • The John Merck Fund (exit planned for 2022)


    Entrances of new ocean funders since 2010

    • Bloomberg Philanthropies
    • Blue Action Fund
    • Blue Nature Alliance
    • Benioff Ocean Initiative
    • Bezos Earth Fund
    • Builders Initiative
    • Dalio Philanthropies/Ocean X
    • Emerson Collective
    • Erol Foundation
    • Global Wildlife Conservation (formerly LDCF)
    • Levine Family Foundation
    • Monarch Foundation
    • National Philanthropic Trust
    • Quadrivium Foundation
    • Simons Foundation
    • Sobrato Philanthropies
    • Stellar Blue Fund
    • Wyss Foundation/ Campaign for Nature
    • Donor Advised Funds (not tracked systematically in this report)

    Note: These are not exhaustive lists. There are likely to be other funders emerging or exiting of which Our Shared Seas is not yet aware.

    Leading Funders

    The composition of the top 20 marine funders has evolved, shaped by exits from the field as well as new entrants. The Builders Initiative and National Philanthropic Trust (referring to ocean-related grantmaking by the Trust) are relatively newer entrants to the field and have already emerged as top 20 funders for marine conservation. Other foundations, including the MacArthur Foundation and Helmsley Charitable Trust, were formerly among the top 20 funders and have since exited from ocean grantmaking.

    In 2021, the Bezos Earth Fund emerged as a top 20 marine funder through its USD 12.5 million grant to ClimateWorks Foundation to decarbonize shipping and a USD 100 million grant to the World Wildlife Fund, of which approximately USD 66 million will be directed to marine conservation through investments in blue carbon. The Bezos Earth Fund also made grants to at least two other ocean-related organizations, but the details of that work has not yet been determined.

    Top 20 Marine Philanthropic Funders, 2010-2020 (USD)

    The top 20 funders have accounted for approximately 64 percent of marine funding over the past decade. The proportion of funding from top funders appears to be rising in the past two years. Within the top 20 funders, the top 5 funders alone in 2020—the Packard Foundation, Nippon Foundation, Marine Preservation Association, Moore Foundation, and National Philanthropic Trust—represent 44 percent of all marine funding.

    The ocean funding landscape is growing by the unique number of funders, and select emerging funders appear to be playing an influential role in marine conservation by contributing a significant share of grantmaking.

    Proportion of marine funding from the Top 20 Funders, 2010–2020

    Leading Recipients

    Research institutions and large, international environmental NGOs represent most of the top 20 grant recipients for ocean funding.

    The Marine Spill Response Corporation received more than twice as much support from funders as any other marine conservation institute. Rounding out the top 10, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and seven large, international environmental NGOs command the majority of marine funding. Two university systems—the University of Hawaii system and the University of Washington—made the top 20 recipient list given their respective roles in academic marine research.

    Top 20 NGO Recipients, 2010–2020 (USD)

    Funding by Issue Area

    Over the past decade, top areas of marine grantmaking have included science (21 percent) and protected areas and habitat protection (17 percent). Ocean-climate is an emerging area of grantmaking. Funding for this issue grew from USD 3.6 million in 2010 to nearly USD 50 million in 2020.

    Marine Phil funding by issue area 2010–2020 highchart tree map

    Protected Areas and Habitat Protection

    Investments to protect marine areas and critical habitat grew from USD 99 million in 2010 to USD 169 million in 2020. MPA funding more than doubled, from USD 28 million in 2010 to USD 60 million in 2020. The marine community is expected to devote continued attention and resources to the topic as it seeks to advance efforts to protect 30 percent of the ocean by 2030. Coral funding also increased substantially, from USD 5 million in 2010 to USD 30 million in 2020. Beyond foundations, multi-lateral agencies and funds contribute more than USD 200 million per year for coral protection. Similarly, blue carbon emerged as a growing field, from USD 2 million in 2010 to USD 20 million in 2020. This field was bolstered by a USD 100 million grant from the Bezos Earth Fund to World Wildlife Fund, of which an estimated USD 66 million will be allocated to work on mangroves and seaweed.


    Improving fisheries management has historically been an area of high engagement for marine funders; it grew from USD 77 million to USD 119 million over the past decade. Several topics within fisheries have also emerged as growing interest for the community. Small-scale fisheries funding increased from USD 1 million in 2010 to approximately USD 20 million in 2020. Efforts to combat Illegal, Unregulated, and Reported (IUU) fishing have become an organizing theme for the field; IUU funding has grown from USD 2 million in 2010 to USD 32 million in 2020. Although more niche, electronic monitoring as a fisheries management tool has also advanced in recent years, partly due to philanthropic support. Funding for electronic monitoring has been in the range of USD 1-3 million in recent years.


    Over the past two decades, aquaculture production (including inland production) has tripled. From a philanthropic perspective, few funders have engaged in a substantive way on aquaculture. As a field, aquaculture funding increased from USD 3.7 million in 2010 to USD 18.6 million in 2020.

    Climate and Energy

    In 2010, funding for ocean-related climate initiatives was less than USD 4 million. By 2020, it reached nearly USD 50 million. In recent years, an increasing number of foundations have developed strategies to address the threat that climate change poses to the ocean, while also positioning the ocean as a source of climate solutions. Although many in the field suggest that work in this sector is still relatively nascent, important field-building activities have taken place in 2021 and continue to be ongoing to unite the shared interests of the climate and ocean funding communities. Efforts to decarbonize the shipping sector, advance offshore wind, and limit the expansion of offshore oil and gas each receive roughly a few million dollars per year and are all considered underfunded.

    Seafood Markets

    Funding for seafood markets increased moderately over the past decade, from USD 25 million to USD 48 million. The past two years have been an important inflection point as several key funders have evaluated the opportunities and challenges of the seafood markets approach. Current and future strategic refreshes among key funders will likely help determine the direction and size of this field in the future.

    Pollution and Industrial Stressors

    Pollution and industrial stressors is a wide-ranging field that captures everything from plastic pollution to the impacts of ocean-based industries to sewage pollution. Foundation funding for plastic pollution increased from USD 7 million in 2010 to USD 51 million in 2020. Funding from public and private sources is likely to be on several orders of magnitude higher for this topic. Industrial pollution funding is dominated by a roughly USD 100 million annual grant from an association of energy companies that pool funding for oil spill response capacity. Sewage pollution is considered a commonly overlooked threat among marine funders, though at least two ocean funders have recently expanded engagement on the topic.

    Percent change in funding over time by issue area, 2010–2020 (%)

    Funding by Geography

    Marine conservation grantmaking has historically allocated a large proportion of funding to global initiatives (40 percent) and work focused on North America (32 percent). Over the past decade, an increased proportion of marine funding was allocated to Asia. Funding to Africa remains limited.

    Marine philanthropic funding by geography, 2010–2020 (USD)

    As the overall size of ocean grantmaking has grown over the past decade, funding to nearly all geographies has increased. A review of where ocean funders are allocating funding reveals several themes, including:

    • Addressing marine and fisheries work in Asia has become an increasing priority for many ocean funders over the past decade. Asia was the third highest recipient of funding, after global initiatives and North America.
    • Although funding to Africa has experienced a high annual growth rate, it still receives less than 3 percent of total marine funding.
    • The average annual growth rate of funding to North America was the second lowest (behind Europe). This suggests that ocean funders may be increasingly looking beyond North America to tackle ocean challenges.
    • While Antarctica has a high average annual growth rate, this is mainly attributed to wide variability in year-over-year changes (e.g., USD 1 million in one year and USD 10 million in the next year).

    Proportion of philanthropic funding by geography (2010–2020)

    Location Total Funding (2010–2020) % of Funding Average Annual Growth Rate
    Antarctica $22M 0.3% 373%
    Arctic $92M 1.2% 80%
    Africa $196M 2.5% 63%
    Oceania $66.6M 0.8% 53%
    High Seas $29.6M 0.4% 30%
    South America $184M 2.3% 22%
    Global $3.1B 39.4% 14%
    Asia $1.2B 14.8% 12%
    North America $2.6B 32.4% 8%
    Europe $649M 8.2% 6%

    Sources: Our Shared Seas, 2021. “A Decade of Ocean Funding: 2010-2020 Landscape Review.” 2021.

    Marine philanthropic funding for Africa and Asia, 2010–2020 (USD)

    Review the philanthropic funding methodology for details on the data sources and methods used in this analysis.