Money is a limiting factor for most marine protected areas. Whether located in the developed or developing world, and whether financed by government or private parties, most MPAs report budget shortfalls: they do not have the funds to address all their needs.

That finding, described by UK researcher Pippa Gravestock in 2003 (“The cost of operating an MPA”, MPA News 5:5), is perhaps truer now than ever after years of worldwide economic slowdown and related budget cuts. Add to that the challenge of paying for all the future MPAs that will be needed to meet global coverage targets under various international agreements (“The MPA Math: How to Reach the 10% Target for Global MPA Coverage”, MPA News 13:5). Clearly, to meet both current and future needs, new financial models for MPAs are necessary.

In this issue, MPA News examines three financial mechanisms that were specially created to fund particular MPAs or MPA systems. The mechanisms – a not-for-profit partner foundation, endowments, and a dedicated fund – have each generated significant sums: millions of dollars in each case. Although such sums may be larger than most MPAs would require, the mechanisms could be scaled down as appropriate to fit individual site needs.

A partner foundation: National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

Many marine protected areas rely entirely on government support for their funding. As a result, they face a limited pool of funds that is susceptible to political shifts. What if there was a private organization associated with each site (or system of sites) that was dedicated to raising additional funds?

That is essentially what the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation (NMSF) does for the 14 sites in the US National Marine Sanctuary system. Incorporated in 2000, NMSF is the sanctuary system’s not-for-profit partner. It raises funds from private donors (including corporations, foundations, and individuals) in support of sanctuary-related programs and events. In addition, NMSF operates its own initiatives to raise public awareness of the sanctuary system.

Recent NMSF efforts included a US $3.4-million fundraising campaign to finance exhibits for a new visitor center for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and providing more than $100,000 in grants this year for ocean awareness programs that relate to sanctuaries. The annual budget for NMSF is more than $7 million.

As a non-governmental charity, NMSF represents an approachable, tangible way for donors to support the sanctuaries they cherish. In fact the homepage of the government’s Sanctuary Program website ( ) directs visitors interested in supporting the sanctuaries to donate to NMSF ( ). “Our national marine sanctuaries are both national treasures and pillars of local communities, including Monterey Bay, the Florida Keys, and the Hawaiian Islands, to name a few,” says Jason Patlis, NMSF president. “Through NMSF, the public can take pride in supporting these special places that belong to the American people.”

Patlis says one of the foundation’s priorities now is to build the capacity of local-level organizations that are dedicated to supporting individual sanctuary sites. These site-specific organizations are generally known as friends groups. “Friends groups can play a pivotal role toward the success of a sanctuary,” says Patlis. “Although our sanctuaries are designated at the national level, they reflect the community and region where they are located. Those communities can play a valuable role in building awareness, supporting sustainable management, and raising outside resources to help support their favored site. Friends groups are a perfect vehicle to capture that interest and enthusiasm.”

Patlis cautions that setting up a friends group is not easy, and he has seen friends groups for individual sanctuaries come and go. “As with running any business, there are costs and fees involved, and you will need a business model and steady revenue stream to be viable,” he says. “That stream might be through user fees (if they are allowed), merchandise sales, or other methods – donations alone will not sustain a friends group.”

Setting up any kind of partner organization for sanctuaries – whether at the national level like NMSF, or the site level like friends groups – takes a lot of work, says Patlis. But it can provide an invaluable service. “Through creating public-private partnerships, we provide synergies that otherwise would not exist, and connect sanctuaries to people in meaningful ways,” he says.

For more information:

Jason Patlis, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Silver Spring, Maryland, US. E-mail:

Building the Pacific Island MPA endowments: Gauging progress in Kiribati and Micronesia

Some of the most ambitious MPA programs in the world – in terms of the size of area to be protected and the fundraising needed to support those MPAs – are in the South Pacific:


  • Site: The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) was designated in 2006, and was expanded two years later to its current size of 408,000-km2.
  • Fundraising: With partners Conservation International and the New England Aquarium, Kiribati has created a PIPA Conservation Trust whose board is raising funds to build a US $25-million endowment. Interest earned on the endowment will support site management and compensate Kiribati for lost revenue from canceling tuna fishing licenses to foreign fleets.
  • Progress: $5 million has been secured so far. As the endowment grows, fishing effort will be phased out. Currently just 3% of the PIPA is no-take, but that includes most of the site’s priority coral reef and lagoon habitat. When the $25-million target is reached, an additional 25% of the PIPA will be closed to fishing (for a combined closure of 28% at that point). The target for that is 2014.

Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia

  • Sites: These nations have pledged to set aside 30% of their nearshore waters in MPAs by 2020 – the so-called Micronesia Challenge.
  • Fundraising: With partners Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy, the governments are raising $18 million for a Micronesia Challenge endowment to support planning and management of each nation’s MPA network. Interest on the endowment will be distributed to the participating governments once they meet their 2:1 matching requirements (providing $2 for every $1 raised from outside sources).
  • Progress: $11.5 million has been secured so far.

The attraction of using endowments like these for MPA financing is that they promise a consistent source of revenue over the long term. The hard part is building them. Fundraising such large amounts is time-consuming, as is building the necessary capacity to manage the endowment.

The PIPA Conservation Trust just began fundraising in March 2012, six years after designation of the protected area. “The work required to establish and operate the PIPA Conservation Trust and its board, and to build and secure local capacity in Kiribati for the Trust operation has understandably taken significant time,” says Sue Miller-Taei, Conservation International’s marine program manager for Pacific Islands. The Trust is now fully operational and headed by an I-Kiribati national, Teuea Toatu, with international diplomatic experience. The first fundraisers will be dinner events in the US city of Los Angeles in May 2012.

For the Micronesia Challenge endowment, the main obstacle has been the struggle of the participating countries to meet their matching requirements. “This has delayed the expected commitments,” says Willy Kostka, executive director of the Micronesia Conservation Trust, which manages the endowment. “We are now assisting the governments with ideas on how to raise local funds – such as through resource user fees – to meet their matching requirements.” Palau, for example, has applied MPA visitor fees toward its endowment requirements. The Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia are exploring the use of tuna licensing fees as matching funds.

Amid the global economic slowdown, says Kostka, the team is searching hard for new donors for the endowment. His organization is developing a business plan to map out a fundraising strategy for the coming years. “We hope that the completion of the business plan will trigger new interest and donations, both from local and international sources,” he says.

For more information:

Sue Miller-Taei, Conservation International, Samoa. E-mail:

Willy Kostka, Micronesia Conservation Trust, Federated States of Micronesia. E-mail:; Web:

Funding the planning of an MPA network: Resources Legacy Fund Foundation

In 1999, the US state of California passed a law called the Marine Life Protection Act, or MLPA. The law stated that California’s existing system of MPAs was haphazard and inadequate, and that a new, more coherent network of MPAs needed to be developed. However, by 2003, implementation of the law already looked as if it might be dead in the water. Two attempts by the state government to put it into practice had failed: the first due to a planning process that drew public criticism, the next due to the project’s running out of money (because of a poor fiscal year for the state).

With encouragement from the state government, five private foundations stepped forward with a joint offer to bankroll a new planning process.* Approved by the state, the foundations pooled their funding with the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation (RLFF), which would disburse the funds as needed. The initiative turned out to be no small task. Ultimately it involved forming several regional stakeholder groups, a science advisory team, and a task force to oversee region-by-region implementation; holding dozens of public meetings to collect stakeholder input over more than eight years; and planning more than 100 new MPAs along the California coast, including near densely populated areas. Still in progress ( ), the MLPA initiative is arguably the most intensive MPA network planning exercise in history.

It was made possible by foundation support. “California has a long tradition of philanthropy collaborating with government agencies at all levels in achieving conservation outcomes,” says Mike Weber, who has managed the MLPA project for RLFF. “The clearest example is conservation of important terrestrial habitats through outright acquisition or through conservation easements, using private funding alone, or a combination of private and public funding. In the case of the MLPA initiative, RLFF managed philanthropic funds to support scientists and stakeholders in designing the regional MPA network options, which were then considered by the California Fish and Game Commission in a formal regulatory process.”

RLFF had no direct role in shaping the MPA alternatives that the Commission considered. Once the MPA-design process was launched, RLFF’s role was administrative: namely, assembling and managing philanthropic funding and disbursing it at the direction of the project task force, whose members were appointed by the Secretary of Natural Resources. “Between 2004 and 2012, RLFF managed hundreds of contracts that ranged from stipends for individual fishermen serving on a regional stakeholder group to development of the MPA-design tool that came to be known as MarineMap ( ),” says Weber. “The philanthropic funding provided a level of flexibility and timeliness that is critical for such dynamic and intense processes as science-based, stakeholder-driven MPA design.”

How much flexibility was needed? Weber says the project’s circumstances and demands changed continually as the stakeholder process moved from one region to the next and as the planning process attracted more and more national attention, including opposition from fishing industry groups. “Looking back, it’s remarkable we remained on budget,” he says. The budget was US $19 million.

Weber says a lesson from the MLPA initiative is for MPA practitioners to think first about what tasks are essential to MPA design or management, and only then to think about who should carry out those tasks – whether that is a government, a foundation, or another entity. “Having worked in federal and state government myself,” he says, “I’m sure that this step is difficult for government agencies to do because their traditional response will be, ‘It is the government’s job.’ But if we keep the focus on what we are trying to accomplish – thriving ecosystems, fisheries, and coastal communities – that makes it easier to be more analytical about how best to get the job done.”

For more information:

Mike Weber, Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, Resources Law Group, California, US. E-mail:

* Footnote: The five foundations were the Annenberg Foundation, Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and Marisla Foundation.

BOX: Tips on setting up a fundraising program for your marine protected area

The following advice was adapted by MPA News from the manual Training of Trainers on Marine Protected Areas Management in the Caribbean, 2007 edition. Published by the UNEP Caribbean Environment Programme and used in regular training workshops throughout the region, the 436-page document is among the world’s most comprehensive guides on MPA planning and management ( ):

  • The generation of funds for MPAs is more of an art than a science. Some groups are very good at it while others seem to fall flat on their faces.
  • The right person: In setting up a fundraising program, make sure you have the right person in place as your MPA’s designated fundraiser. That “right” person is someone who has a certain charisma, and who readily establishes personal relationships with prospective donors and other influential people. The right person is someone who can seek information effectively, recognize opportunities and respond to them quickly, and maintain focus on the objectives of the fundraising strategy.
  • Define your needs: Before attempting to contact potential donors, you should clearly define your MPA’s fundraising needs and ensure that its objectives are aligned with its mission goals. A specific monetary goal should be established (“This is what it would cost to achieve the desired end product…”). Keep in mind that the cost to raise the funds should not exceed a reasonable percentage – say, 10-15% of the total cost. Also be aware of any fundraising restrictions that may be in place through the MPA’s enabling legislation, governmental regulations, or fiscal oversight.
  • Know your donors: It is important to know your potential donor community. Do research ahead of time on what programs or topics they fund, what information they need, and who the principal personalities involved in the funding process are.
  • Keep good records: Finally, keep good financial records for your MPA: it demonstrates sound fiscal responsibility. You should be prepared to tell potential donors exactly how you intend to spend their money and what the final product will be.

BOX: Choosing the right financial strategy for your MPA

There are several resources available to help MPA practitioners choose which financial strategies are most appropriate for their sites – from charging user fees, to attracting voluntary donations, to establishing endowments, and more. Here are a few of these resources:

BOX: Private funding for the Chagos MPA: How the Bertarelli Foundation got involved

The Bertarelli Foundation, formed in 1998 and based in Switzerland, funds a diverse set of projects worldwide – from children’s issues, to biomedical research, to sports, and more ( ). The foundation entered the field of marine protected areas in 2010. At the time, the UK government was in the process of designating waters of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean as a no-take area (the Chagos Marine Protected Area), but lacked adequate funds to patrol the 640,000-km2 expanse. In support, the Bertarelli Foundation committed GBP 3.5 million (US $5.6 million) over five years to fund the enforcement activities. After those five years the UK government will undertake to internalize the costs and enforce the no-take reserve indefinitely.

MPA News asked the Bertarelli Foundation to describe how it got involved in the Chagos work. This was the foundation’s response:

“The Bertarelli family has always been close to the water. Dona and Ernesto were raised on Lake Geneva and are now both professional sailors, with Ernesto’s Team Alinghi having won the American’s Cup twice. This deep passion for the sea led them to a natural interest in marine conservation. Chagos was brought to their attention by the British charity Blue Marine Foundation ( ), which was working with the British government to create the world’s largest protected area in the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The Bertarelli Foundation always prefers projects that lead to real action, as that is what is most likely to inspire others, and so Chagos fit well with the Foundation’s own vision and objectives.

“Chagos was the first initiative conducted by the Bertarelli Foundation in the ocean conservation domain. Because of its huge impact, we are now in contact with many stakeholders in this sector, with future initiatives under active consideration at the present time.”