About Us

History

The Ocean Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit international community foundation.  Our community is the ocean - 70% of Earth’s surface—and those who depend on it. Our mission is to support, strengthen, and promote those organizations dedicated to reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments around the world. The Ocean Foundation responds to growing needs and urgent issues relating to ocean health and sustainability, and strives to strengthen the knowledge and expertise of the ocean conservation community as a whole. 

More than a decade ago, underwater photographer Wolcott Henry joined a group of like-minded coral conservation experts, venture capitalists, and philanthropy colleagues in establishing the Coral Reef Foundation as the first coral reef conservation donors’ portal—providing both expert advice about successful coral reef conservation projects and easy mechanisms for giving, especially to small groups in distant places who were carrying much of the burden of place-based coral reef protection.  Potential donors reacted positively to this innovative approach to providing expertly guided funding, but many felt that the idea did not go far enough: “What about conservation for other ocean ecosystems that are also under funded?”

Thus, the model was expanded, with the help of additional ocean experts, to offer donors the opportunity to support ocean conservation efforts as a whole. And, in 2003, the first community foundation for the ocean was born.  Its design was framed by the collective strategizing of many people too numerous to list here, although the following individuals are among those who deserve particular recognition for their hard work:  Wolcott Henry, J. Thomas McMurray, C. Bowdoin Train, Stephen Colwell, Ann Shulman, Vikki Spruill, Sylvia Earle, Hooper Brooks, Herbert Bedolfe, Shawn Reifsteck, James Elder, and Mark Spalding, who became The Ocean Foundation’s first president.

The Ocean Foundation’s lines of business reflect those of the standard community foundation serving its community—providing philanthropic advice and organizational consulting services, establishing donor and committee advised funds, creating pooled “field of interest funds,” and providing back office services to dozens of hosted projects to free their staff and volunteers to do their work on the ground and in the water.  We also are committed to convening people of all ages to learn more about the ways in which they depend on the ocean and how they can support healthy oceans.

Early projects focused on the health of the national marine park and the community of Loreto, Baja California Sur, sustainable development in St. Kitts, fisheries in Alaska, and sea turtle conservation globally.  Alaska Brewing Company became an early partner, establishing the Coastal Code Fund with one percent of the sales of its IPA.

By 2012, The Ocean Foundation was host to more than fifty of these projects and seven pooled funds, as well as donor advised and committee funds.  Both in-house and with our partners, we have produced an array of research reports and white papers that range from the annual compilation of the marine funders survey to the gold standard for assessing aquaculture certification models to the best in class legal framework for sustainable coastal development. Our projects have produced award winning books and films, increased the effectiveness of marine parks, and even helped bring back black sea turtles from the brink of extinction! We are particularly proud of our achievements in promoting ocean conservation outside of the United States with more than 70% of our funding going to international efforts.

Since its founding, The Ocean Foundation has continuously worked to identify solutions to the threats that face our oceans and the organizations and individuals best suited to implement them. In our first 10 years, we’ve given more than $21 million to organizations in support of their hard work.  Our donors have helped create the sense of community we hoped for from the beginning.  The Ocean Foundation is uniquely positioned to merge the head and the heart—achieving quantity and quality in strengthening the ocean conservation community and the work it undertakes.

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