Funding Report

Data Highlights

Philanthropic marine grants

USD 621 million (2016)

CEA, 2018

Development aid marine grants

USD 635 million (2016)

CEA, 2018

Share of ocean funding

~7% of US environmental grantmaking (2015)

CEA, 2018

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    This section provides an overview of: the marine conservation funding landscape, philanthropic funding trends, and development aid funding trends. An updated version of this report will be released in mid-2021.

    The results presented in this section are based on original analysis by CEA Consulting (CEA) and were prepared specifically for the purpose of this project. Estimates of philanthropic funding are based on grant-level data gathered from a variety of sources, including: the Foundation Center’s project, foundation staff, foundation websites, and IRS Form 990 tax documents. Grants are reported based on commitment amounts, rather than disbursements. Philanthropic funding refers to grantmaking from private foundations and does not include government grants (i.e., National Science Foundation) or charitable donations by individuals not registered as foundations. Philanthropic funding data methodology is here.

    ODA funding data was gathered from the Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database maintained by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). For additional detail on the methodology used, see the expanded description here.

    Overview of marine conservation grantmaking

    In recent years, philanthropic and development aid grantmaking for marine conservation have been roughly comparable in size, though the two sources have targeted different geographies and issue areas. Following a trend of overall growth in recent years, the philanthropic sector contributed an estimated USD 620 million in marine-related grants in 2016, while official development assistance (ODA) provided roughly USD 634 million in grants.1

    From a geographic perspective, philanthropy has invested heavily in North America, as well as cross-cutting science and global initiatives. Collectively, these priorities made up roughly 80 percent of ocean-related foundation grantmaking between 2015 and 2016.2 Given the development sector’s emphasis on poverty alleviation and economic development in low- and middle-income countries, ODA grantmaking has primarily been directed toward Africa, parts of Asia, and Oceania. These regions accounted for 86 percent of ODA funding between 2015 and 2016.3

    Region [or area] ODA funding (m USD) Share of ODA funding Philanthropic funding (m USD) Share of philanthropic funding
    North America, Central America, Caribbean $74 7.9% $378 44.8%
    South America $31 3.3% $27 3.2%
    Europe $7 0.8% $34 4.0%
    Rest of Asia and Middle East $201 21.6% $59 7.0%
    Africa $373 40.0% $15 1.8%
    Southeast Asia and Oceania $246 26.4% $42 5.0%
    Global $137 16.3%
    Science $151 17.9%
    Total $932 $843

    Note: In this visual, Southeast Asia and Oceania are combined. The “Rest of Asia” circle includes non-Southeast Asia countries and the Middle East. Central America and the Caribbean are included in North America’s estimate. ‘Science’ refers to grants which encompass cross-cutting geographies and have a strong scientific research focus; examples include the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and Marine Microbiology Initiative (MMI). Source: Analysis by CEA Consulting, 2018. Prepared for “Our Shared Seas: Global ocean data and trends for informed action and decision-making,” 2019.

    Philanthropic funding trends

    Level of funding

    Environmental funding represented less than 2 percent of all grantmaking in the United States in 2015; of this proportion, ocean funding accounted for 7 percent of environmental funding.4 The level of ocean-related funding has increased in recent years, driven by ongoing commitments from the largest marine conservation funders as well as the entrance of new funders to the field. In 2016, philanthropic ocean-related grantmaking (including funding from non-U.S. grantmakers) reached an estimated USD 621 million.5

    Leading funders

    During the 2010–2016 period, the top 20 funders comprised 73 percent of all identified marine grantmaking.6 The top five ocean funders—David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Marisla Foundation, and Oak Foundation—accounted for roughly 45 percent of all marine grants (by value).

    Several foundations increased marine-related grantmaking during 2015–2016 as compared to levels during previous years, including the Packard Foundation, Oak Foundation, Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, MAVA Foundation, Waitt Foundation, Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, Benioff, and the Hewlett Foundation. A smaller number of foundations decreased their marine-related giving in 2015–2016, including the Annenberg Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, and Bertarelli Foundation.

    Leading recipients

    The top five NGO recipients of ocean-related philanthropic funding accounted for nearly 50 percent of funding among the top 20 recipients during 2015–2016.7 These organizations included Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (representing 17 percent of funding among top 20 recipients), Oceana (10 percent), The Nature Conservancy (7 percent), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (7 percent), and World Wildlife Fund (6 percent).

    Priority issue areas

    Following a similar trend as previous years, philanthropic grantmaking during 2015–2016 prioritized funding projects in science (accounting for 28 percent of funding), protected areas and habitat protection (19 percent of funding), and fisheries (18 percent of funding).8

    As it relates to the ‘science’ category, two large grantmaking programs—the Packard Foundation’s ongoing support for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and the Moore Foundation’s Marine Microbiology Initiative (MMI)—were differentiated in this analysis as they represent major institutional commitments with a strong focus on scientific exploration.

    The ‘fisheries’ category encompasses a wide range of topics, including fisheries policy, nearshore and small-scale fisheries, rights-based management, bycatch, and food security. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) emerged as an important funding area in 2015 and 2016. IUU has risen in prominence in marine conservation in recent years, due in part to increased awareness from high-profile media exposés, interconnectivity with human rights, and new technologies and tools (i.e., Global Fishing Watch) that have enabled greater transparency and a growing body of evidence by academics and NGOs. To date, some of the most active marine funders supporting IUU-related initiatives include the Packard Foundation, Oceans 5, Walton Family Foundation, and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

    Priority geographies

    By geography, North America was the largest regional recipient of marine funding, accounting for 33 percent of funding during 2015–2016.9 At the country level, top recipients of philanthropic funding during this period were the United States, Mexico, Indonesia, Canada, and Belize.

    While private foundations represent an important source of funding for ocean conservation, they are not the only source. NGOs also receive funding from many other sources not captured in this analysis such as government grants, donations from major donors or individuals, membership dues, bequests, contracts, etc. The exact proportion of funding from sources varies widely by NGOs, some of which are more reliant on foundation funding than others.

    Based on a review of the annual reports and interviews with ten of the largest marine conservation groups, CEA estimates that these leading NGOs receive roughly half of their funding, on average, from non-foundation sources. For this group, non-foundation funding provides around USD 150 million annually for marine conservation purposes. This estimate is admittedly coarse, but it provides an initial approximation of commonly overlooked revenue streams for marine conservation. If the same 1:1 ratio of foundation-to-non-foundation funding applies to the field as a whole, it would suggest that the total size of the marine conservation community (excluding ODA) is closer to USD 1.2 billion than USD 600 million. For additional detail on the methodology used to develop this estimate, please refer to the description here.

    Development aid funding trends

    Official development assistance represents a significant source of funding for marine-related projects around the world. During 2010–2016, infrastructure projects made up nearly 70 percent of all marine ODA funding.10 Of infrastructure funding, water transport projects—referring to initiatives such as ports, harbors, and waterway improvements—accounted for roughly 90 percent of this funding amount. Among all marine ODA funding during this period, fisheries-related projects represented 18 percent of funding. Development aid funding methodology is here.

    According to the OECD, official development assistance is defined as: “Flows of official financing administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as the main objective, and which are concessional in character with a grant element of at least 25 percent. By convention, ODA flows comprise contributions of donor government agencies, at all levels, to developing countries (‘bilateral ODA’) and to multilateral institutions. ODA receipts comprise disbursements by bilateral donors and multilateral institutions.”

    Level of funding

    Although there have been some fluctuations by year, marine-related ODA grants have followed an overall trend of growth in recent years, increasing from USD 447 million in 2006 to USD 635 million in 2016.11

    Priority issue areas

    Among ODA grant funding during 2010–2016, fisheries made up 35 percent of funding, followed by infrastructure (29 percent), science (20 percent), and conservation (16 percent). Fisheries-related grant projects during this time period totaled USD 1.3 billion.12 As a whole, the development sector has a general aim of poverty alleviation and economic development within low- and middle-income countries.

    The proportion of fisheries-related funding as a share of all marine ODA funding was relatively stable during 2010–2016.

    The proportion of fisheries-related funding as a share of all marine ODA funding was relatively stable during 2010–2016.

    Leading funders

    When all funding flows are considered (i.e., grants, loans, and export credits), the World Bank and France were the two leading funders of marine-related ODA funding during 2010–2016. The World Bank’s International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD)—which lends on commercial terms—provided USD 687 million to middle-income and creditworthy low-income countries in the form of loans, guarantees, and risk management products.

    When grants alone are considered, the leading funders of marine ODA funding during 2010–2016 were France, Japan, and the Global Environment Facility, E.U. Institutions, the United States, Germany, and Norway.13

    Priority geographies

    At a country level, the main recipients of marine-related grants are primarily located in Africa and Asia, with Mozambique and Mauritania receiving the largest share of ODA grants from 2010 to 2016 at USD 95 million and USD 74 million, respectively.14 Among Asian countries, Indonesia was the top recipient of grant funding at USD 50 million, while Mexico received the greatest level of funding in the Americas, at USD 35 million. At the regional level, Oceania received the largest share of funding at USD 229 million, which highlights the development sector’s prioritization of small-island developing states.

    ODA funding in the OECD database is categorized such that if a grant is provided to one country, it is attributed to that country. If a grant is provided to multiple countries, it is attributed to a region or subregion. This method is to avoid double counting. As such, the country and regional charts shown here should be interpreted as a corresponding set, rather than as two divisions of the same data.


    1. Analysis by CEA Consulting, 2018. Prepared for “Our Shared Seas: Global ocean data and trends for informed action and decision-making,” 2019.
    2. Ibid.
    3. Ibid.
    4. Ibid; Giving USA Foundation, “The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015,” researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, 2016.
    5. Ibid.
    6. Ibid.
    7. Ibid.
    8. Ibid.
    9. Ibid.
    10. Ibid.
    11. Ibid.
    12. Ibid.
    13. Ibid.
    14. Ibid.