Kauai News

$50M Gift From Facebook Founder, Wife Aims to Improve Hawaiʻi’s Ocean Health

Posted January 23, 2022, 10:37 AM HST

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology is getting a financial boost to help restore Hawaiʻi’s ocean health.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, committed to giving the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology $50 million over a seven-year period. The funds which will support various research groups within the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology.

“This transformative gift will enable our world-class experts to accelerate conservation research for the benefit of Hawaiʻi and the world.” said University of Hawai‘i President David Lassner. “The ocean ecosystems that evolved over eons now face unprecedented threats from our growing human population and our behaviors.”

Lassner added that it is critical to learn from previous generations who carefully balanced resource use and conservation.

“The clock is ticking, 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,” he said. “There is no place on Earth better than Hawai‘i to do this work, and no institution better able than UH. We could not be more grateful for the investment of Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg in a better future for all of us and our planet.”

The $50 million gift will fund research and programs that document changing ocean conditions, explore solutions to support healthier ocean ecosystems, enhance coastal resilience from storms and sea-level rise and tackle challenges to marine organisms ranging from the tiniest corals to the largest predators.

Hawai‘i is home to a rich diversity of marine life, including many threatened and endangered species. The accelerated pace of climate change and ocean acidification has altered environmental conditions faster than expected. Many species have difficulty adapting to the rapid changes taking place and scientists see growing impacts to marine ecosystems.

The gift funds research on the impact of climate change on Hawaiian coastal waters, including areas of particular concern or natural refuges from ocean acidification effects. It will also support research on methods for more accurate forecasting of future ocean conditions, as well as efforts to study marine organisms such as coral reefs, sharks and other species.

“Hawaiʻi 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,” said Zuckerberg and Chan. “We’re honored to support the University of Hawaiʻi’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 seven-year commitment funds research that supports healthier, more climate change-resilient coral reef ecosystems. For example, scaling up strategies for coral reef restoration. It also leverages efforts to grow community partnerships and support indigenous resource management practices. Further, it supports training for the next generation of coral scientists and ocean conservationists.

“In addition to the research funded through this gift, we will improve support for local students in overcoming obstacles to higher education,” said Chip Fletcher, interim dean for the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. “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.”

This gift also funds critical efforts to inform the public, policymakers and resource managers of ocean acidification and warming vulnerabilities.

“This generous gift is a wonderful opportunity to support the much-needed interdisciplinary work that will help us to better understand ocean systems and indigenous management strategies and to develop effective approaches for ocean conservation,” said Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology Director Eleanor Sterling. “We aim to make significant strides toward ensuring healthy, diverse oceans as well as meeting the needs of local communities.”

University of Hawaiʻi Foundation CEO Tim Dolan said the university is grateful for the generous gift from Zuckerberg and his wife.

“Through their visionary generosity, our UH researchers and partners will have the essential funding needed to gain new knowledge and ultimately help our world’s oceans,” said Dolan. “The timing of this incredible investment will generate enormous momentum for UH’s ambitious capital campaign.”

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