california coastline

Innovative approaches to financing ocean conservation


Ocean conservation actions are underway around the world to sustain vital ocean benefits, such as food provision, biodiversity, and recreation. Continued support of these efforts to conserve ecosystems and combat climate change, overfishing, and habitat destruction will require massive investments, likely orders of magnitude larger than the current annual spending in this sector of approximately $1.3 billion. Philanthropy has supplied much of this funding to date, and will continue to play an essential role in developing and piloting solutions, but restoring ocean health and resilience will require more resources than are available in the philanthropic sector alone. To radically increase available funding for ocean conservation actions, alternative financing mechanisms must be implemented.

We partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to think about what these alternative mechanisms might look like, and how they could expand the pool of financial resources available for ocean and island conservation initiatives. In particular, we considered how creative financing mechanisms could be applied to TNC California’s priority areas of kelp forest protection and restoration, coral reef restoration, island biosecurity, and fisheries disaster relief.


While there is a robust body of work on both the development of conservation solutions and conservation finance options, there is a missing link between the two regarding how to best finance a conservation action. We bridged this gap by developing a framework that can identify financing opportunities that align with the attributes of and benefits generated by a given conservation action. This novel framework helps discern viable from non-viable financing opportunities while also outlining enabling conditions and potential barriers for each mechanism as they apply to different conservation areas. We then mapped our framework onto TNC California’s priority conservation areas to explore a suite of potential financing options and identify the most promising opportunities.

Key findings

A major obstacle to increasing the provision of ecosystem services is funding for conservation projects. In a Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment publication we provide a framework for identifying the specific conditions that must be satisfied by a project for an existing financing mechanism to be viable. Main points:

  • Breaking down projects to identify the timing of the financing need, attributes of ecosystem services generated, and conservator characteristics can reveal viable financing options.
  • Applying the framework to four case studies (forest, coral reef, and estuarine ecosystem restoration, and island biosecurity) highlights how the necessary conditions can be applied to potential real-world conservation projects to identify and eliminate financing opportunities.
  • Matching financing solutions with conservation projects through our framework allows conservation practitioners to efficiently direct conservation financing to where it is most needed.


This project was a collaboration with The Nature Conservancy’s California Ocean Program.