Mark Zuckerberg donates $50M to University of Hawaii to study impact of climate change on ocean

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jan. 20—The University of Hawaii today announced a $50 million gift over seven years from billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, for research about the impact of climate change on the ocean.

The largest cash gift in UH history will support various research groups within the university's Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and underwrite research and programs that document changing ocean conditions, explore ways to support healthier ocean ecosystems, enhance coastal resilience from storms and sea-level rise and study problems for marine creatures.

In a statement, UH President David Lassner said ocean ecosystems face unprecedented threats linked to "our growing human population and our behaviors, " and the gift will be "transformative " in allowing the university to accelerate its conservation research.

"The clock is ticking, " he said, "and we must fast-track not only our understanding of marine ecosystems and the impacts of climate change, but the actions we must take to reverse the devastation underway. There is no place on Earth better than Hawaii to do this work, and no institution better able than UH."

UH researchers have already documented impacts to Hawaii's marine life due to climate change and ocean acidification. Many species, they have found, are struggling to adapt to the rapid changes.

The cash gift will fund efforts to develop methods for more accurate forecasting of future ocean conditions and research about marine organisms like coral reefs and sharks.

In a statement released by the university, Zuckerberg and Chan said, "Hawaii has one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world—and having a deeper understanding of this ecosystem is the key to preserving and protecting it. We're honored to support the University of Hawaii's conservation efforts, including their trailblazing research on coral reef restoration, the impact of climate change on coastal waters and other areas related to the health of our oceans."

The gift is part of a growing record of philanthropy by Zuckerberg and Chan in their adopted home state. The couple bought 700 acres on Kauai in 2014 and built a house. In April they bought another 600 acres and added another 110 acres in November.

While they did create a stir over controversial moves to secure their land in their first few years here, the couple of late has been making positive headlines through charitable giving, most of it on Kauai.

They created a charitable fund in their name through the Hawaii Community Foundation to support local nonprofits that work in education, health, the environment and culture.

In November, Kauai Habitat for Humanity announced that it was awarded $4.85 mil ­lion in grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Kauai Community Fund to build affordable housing in Waimea, Anahola and Waipouli.

Earlier, the fund contributed $4.2 million to Kauai's Rise to Work jobs program and $4 million to nonprofits The Trust for Public Land and Malama Huleia to purchase the 102-acre Alakoko "Menehune " Fishpond for cultural and environmental stewardship in perpetuity.

Forbes has ranked Zuckerberg as the eighth-richest person in the world with a net worth of about $120 billion.

The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology is a unit of the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, the university's largest receiver of outside research funding. SOEST's overall annual budget is more than $130 million with external research funding reaching about $100 million a year.

Chip Fletcher, interim SOEST dean, said the Zuckerberg gift, among other things, will result in new equipment devoted to ocean ecosystem health, including buoys to measure carbon dioxide in the water and the air, and water drones to collect an array of measurements that will help refine climate change modeling.

"It will be research that matters to Hawaii, " he said.

But the gift isn't only for research.

"Through internships, mentoring, community engagement efforts and graduate research fellowships we will grow our pool of scholars, policymakers and conservationists from underrepresented communities around our state, " Fletcher said.

Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology Director Eleanor Sterling said the money will support the kind of interdisciplinary work that will lead to a better understanding of ocean systems and Indigenous strategies to help develop effective approaches for ocean conservation.

"We aim to make significant strides toward ensuring healthy, diverse oceans as well as meeting the needs of local communities, " Sterling said.