Earlier this year, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation gave a $3 million grant to Oceana, playing a crucial role in helping Oceana advance conservation efforts in both the Pacific and Arctic oceans. This Q&A with Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation executive director Justin Winters explores why the Foundation chose to partner with Oceana. This piece was originally published in the summer 2014 issue of Oceana magazine. Take a look below to learn more.
Can you tell me about the foundation’s vision for environmental work?
The Foundation is dedicated to protecting the Earth’s last wild places and to implementing solutions that foster a more harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world, both on land and at sea. We are moving quickly to identify environmental conservation and restoration projects that can be scaled and replicated across the globe, especially projects that engage and empower local communities to protect their natural resources, thereby improving the daily lives of people living in regions at risk from the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change. The other mission of the foundation is to rapidly scale up philanthropic dollars put into environmental work — currently less than 3 percent of the global total — and to inspire and engage the general public to take action on key environmental issues.
Why did the foundation choose to partner with Oceana?
Our grant to Oceana was the major second grant we have made from the proceeds of the 11th Hour Charity Auction held last year. We had already done a large-scale grant to support and scale up an incredible tiger conservation project in Nepal with World Wildlife Fund, so we wanted our next grant to focus on the oceans. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has partnered with Oceana in the past and we have tracked Oceana’s progress as its programs have grown. Oceana is very effective on oceans issues, and we felt that they were a trusted partner and someone we wanted to support to help scale their great work.
Can you tell us more about the grant’s focus on the Pacific Ocean?
We made a strategic decision to put our funding into a marine project had not yet been sufficiently supported. We specifically chose the Pacific Ocean as our target region because this is an area of work where Oceana has good traction, has a plan, and needs support to make it happen.
Have you seen the oceans change in your lifetime?
I have seen the oceans change, especially from the perspective of the work that we do for the foundation. When you track facts and figures on a regular basis, you can see how fisheries are declining, pollution is growing, and large-scale shipping is increasing every day. It has made me more aware of how much we rely on the ocean’s resources, and how much we are impacting the future wellbeing of the planet and the 1 billion people who rely upon fisheries as their primary source of nutrition. If we don’t act now, there won’t be much left for future generations.
Can you tell us about your personal connection to the oceans?
I am in constant awe of the natural world and love the oceans. Since childhood, I’ve been drawn to the oceans to find peace and a sense of connection with the seemingly limitless bounds of nature and with the incredibly intelligent species, like dolphins and whales, who call the ocean their home.
Do you feel hopeful about the future of the oceans?
I do feel hopeful. I think that the general population of the world has a very strong connection to the oceans and cares about them deeply. I’ve seen rapidly growing support amongst the public for oceans issues, and I also feel hopeful about the other organizations and philanthropists involved in ocean issues. They are all particularly effective and collaborate well together to accomplish real change. So I think that there is a lot of hope for the future.
Is there anything else you want to tell readers of Oceana?
Do not be dismayed by the onslaught of bad news about the many issues that are facing the planet and humanity. Because there are hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of individuals and organizations working on these issues day and night, and they are doing really incredible work on the ground to protect the planet. If you want to participate please follow Leonardo DiCaprio’s Facebook and Twitter pages where we regularly post exciting opportunities for people to make a difference on critical environment issues.