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How Ocean Philanthropy Can Change the Tide

By Catharine Cooper and Mark Spalding It’s hard to imagine anyone who has not been changed by an experience of the sea.  Whether it is to walk by her side, swim in her cooling waters, or float on her surface, the vast expanse of our ocean is transformative.  We stand in awe of her majesty....

By Catharine Cooper and Mark Spalding

Millennium Atoll, Day 3, Dive 2 with Mauricio - 52

It’s hard to imagine anyone who has not been changed by an experience of the sea.  Whether it is to walk by her side, swim in her cooling waters, or float on her surface, the vast expanse of our ocean is transformative.  We stand in awe of her majesty.

We are mesmerized by her undulating surfaces, the rhythm of her tides, and the pulse of crashing waves.  The plethora of life within and without the sea provides us with sustenance.  She modulates our temperatures, absorbs our carbon dioxide, provides us recreational activities, and defines our blue planet.

We gaze at her haunting, distant blue horizon and experience a sense of limitlessness that we now know is false.

Current knowledge reveals that our seas are in deep trouble – and they need our help.  For far too long we have taken the ocean for granted, and expected magically that she would absorb, digest and correct all that we threw into her.  Declining fish populations, decimation of coral reefs, dead zones, increasing acidification, oil spills, toxic die-off, a gyre of garbage the size of Texas – are all problems created by man, and it is man who must change to protect the waters that support life on our planet.

We’ve reached a tipping point – a place where if we do not change/correct our actions, we might cause the end of life in the sea, as we know it.   Sylvia Earle calls this moment, “the sweet spot,” and says that what we do now, the choices we make, the actions we take, can turn the tide in a life-supporting direction, for the ocean and ourselves.  We have begun to move slowly in the right direction.  It’s up to us – we who cherish the seas – to take bolder steps to secure the health and future of the ocean.

Our dollars can be turned into bold actions.  Ocean philanthropy is one of the choices we can make, and donations are vital to the continuation and expansion of ocean programs for three critical reasons:

  • The problems and challenges facing the seas are greater than ever
  • Government funds are declining- even disappearing for some critical ocean  programs
  • Research and program costs continue to spiral upward

Here are five important things you can do right now to help sustain the life of our seas:

1. Give, and Give Smart.

Write a check.  Send a wire.  Assign an interest-bearing asset.  Gift appreciated stocks.  Charge a donation to your credit card.  Spread a gift out via monthly recurring charges. Remember a charity in your will or trust.  Become a Corporate Sponsor.  Become an Ocean Partner.  Give a gift in honor of a friend’s birthday or your parents’ anniversary.  Give in memory of an ocean lover.  Sign up for your employer’s charitable gift matching program.

2. Follow your heart

Pick the most effective ocean conservation groups that connect with your heart.  Are you a sea turtle person?  In love with whales?  Worried about coral reefs?  Engagement is everything!  Guidestar and Charity Navigator provide detailed analysis of revenue vs expenses for most large U.S. nonprofit companies.  Organizations such as ours can help you locate a project that best matches your interests, and you’ll reap the rewards as your donations fund ocean successes.

3. Get Involved

Every sea supportive organization can use your assistance, and there are hundreds of ways to have a hands-on experience.  Help with a World Ocean Event (June 8th), participate in a beach cleanup (Surfrider Foundation or the Waterkeeper Alliance).  Turn out for International Coastal Clean Up Day.  Survey fish for REEF.

Educate yourself, your children, and friends on issues pertaining to the seas.  Write letters to government officials.  Volunteer for organizational activities.  Pledge to reduce your own impact on the health of the seas.  Become a spokesperson for the ocean, a personal sea ambassador.

Tell your family and friends that you gave for the ocean and why!  Invite them to join you in supporting the causes you have found.  Chat it up!  Say nice things about your chosen charities on Twitter or Facebook, and other social media.

4. Give Needed Stuff

Non-profits need computers, recording equipment, boats, diving gear, etc. to do their work.  Do you have things that you own, but don’t use?  Do you have gift cards to stores that do not sell what you need?  Many charities post a “wish list on their website.”  Consult your charity to confirm the need before you ship.  If your donation is something large, like a boat or an all-terrain vehicle, consider also giving the cash needed to insure it and maintain it for a year or more.

5. Help us find the “why?”

We need to understand why there has been a significant uptick in strandings – such as the pilot whales in Florida, or seals in the UK.  Why are the Pacific sea stars are mysteriously dying and what is the cause of the west coast sardine population crash.  Research takes man hours, data collection, and scientific interpretation – long before action plans can be developed and put into effect.  These works require funding – and again, that’s where ocean philanthropy’s role is foundational to the sea’s success.

Lets help make 2014 the year of the ocean.

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Meet the Author

Mark Spalding
Mark J. Spalding, President, The Ocean Foundation, is a member of the Steering Committee of the Western Hemisphere Migratory Species Initiative. Mark is an active participant in the marine working group, Ocean Acidification collaborative, Baja California group, and coral reef group of the funders' organization, the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity. He serves on the International Bering Sea Forum, and he was the chair of the Council of the National Whale Conservation Fund. He has consulted for the Alaska Conservation Foundation, San Diego Foundation, the International Community Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Fundacion La Puerta, and a number of family foundations. He designed and managed the Orca Fund. He has served as a member of the Environmental Grants Advisory Committee of FINCOMUN (Tijuana’s Community Foundation). Mark, who has been practicing law and acting as a policy consultant for 25 years, was the chair of the environmental law section of the California State Bar Association from 1998-1999. He holds a B.A. in history with Honors from Claremont McKenna College, a J.D. from Loyola Law School, and a Master in Pacific International Affairs (MPIA) from IR/PS. From 1994 to 2003 Mark was the Director of the Environmental Law and Civil Society Program, and Editor of the Journal of Environment and Development, at the Graduate School of International Relations & Pacific Studies (IR/PS), University of California at San Diego. In addition to lecturing at IR/PS, Mark has taught at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD's Muir College, UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy, and University of San Diego's School of Law. Mark has helped design some of the most significant ocean conservation campaigns in recent years. He is an experienced and successful facilitator at the international level. He brings his extensive experience with the legal and policy aspects of ocean conservation to the Foundation's grantmaking strategy and evaluation process.