When it comes to carbon emissions, oceans are the world’s dumping ground, absorbing nearly all of the excess heat and energy from greenhouse gas emissions trapped in the earth. The UN estimates that oceans have absorbed about 90% of the heat generated by rising emissions. This has led to numerous environmental problems, from melting ice caps and rising sea levels to marine heat waves, ocean acidification, and a deterioration in marine biodiversity.
One organization that aims to address these problems is the Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA), a San Francisco-based nonprofit that empowers young people to become leaders in preserving the health and sustainability of the world’s oceans. The SOA’s platform lets youth collaborate on business practices, legislation, and technology to restore the health of oceanic ecosystems and fight our changing climate.
The organization was founded in 2014 by Daniela Fernandez, a then-Georgetown University student and entrepreneur currently serving as CEO. Five years after its founding, the SOA got a $1.5 million donation from Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne, a leading philanthropist.
The SOA has since forged partnerships with various organizations, including the Walton Family Foundation, Bank of the West, the Swarovski Foundation, the Ocean Conservancy, the David & Lucille Packard Foundation, ValueAct Capital, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and others.
Under Fernandez’s leadership, the SOA has accelerated the growth of 45 startups and provided more than 175 microgrants in 65 countries. The organization also has developed a network of 6,000-plus leaders in 165 countries.
The SOA recently announced that it had raised $15 million in total funding thanks to large donations from Resonance Philanthropies, the Inclusive Capital Partners Foundation, Maja Kristin, and other partners. Fernandez announced the investment in June at the UN Ocean Conference Youth and Innovation Forum.
In a blog post, Fernandez said the $15 million would be used over the next three years to fund startups and community projects.
The aim is to develop technological and nature-based ocean solutions, such as converting waves into clean energy and planting mangroves to sequester carbon.
The SOA’s ultimate goal is to raise $100 million. To get there, it continues to seek new partners.
The organization’s microgrant program has effectively brought different ideas and solutions to the table. According to the SOA website, the microgrant impact to date includes removing nearly 75,000 kilograms of pollution and sequestering 4,505 tons of carbon dioxide. Microgrants are awarded in these focus areas:
- Blue Carbon. Much of the SOA’s work aims to protect marine ecosystems and species that capture carbon, particularly mangroves and salt marshes.
- Fisheries: Fish provide 3.3 billion people with roughly one-fifth of animal protein. About 10% of the world’s population relies on fishing for livelihood. SOA microgrants help support fisheries science, policy, and innovation that will allow fish and fishing communities to survive climate change.
- Ecosystem & Species Conservation: The goal is to help protect coral reefs that support oceanic food systems that cycle and store key nutrients and minerals.
- Education & Research: Because 40% of humans live within 100 kilometers of the ocean, the SOA aims to help as many people as possible understand and protect the ocean using the latest tools and science.
- Waste Reduction & Circularity: Each year, 418 billion pounds of plastic are in the ocean. The SOA supports cleanup efforts and systemic change that reduces plastic use and production.
“The ocean has been humanity’s biggest protector against climate change, but it is rapidly approaching catastrophe,” Fernandez said. “We need to act now before it is too late.”