Paul Allen’s Marine Giving Takes Shape Amid a Growing Ocean Push by Billionaire Funders

Paul Allen has really been shaking up his philanthropy lately, and one of his foundation’s exciting new programs is for ocean health. Based on a recent $2.6 million grant, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of the program. 

The Microsoft cofounder’s giving has been known mainly for pouring money into brain research and community causes in the Northwest. But having pledged to give away most of his $16 billion fortune within his lifetime, perhaps he feels it’s time to really get down to business. The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation is coming out of its shell, most notably with a commitment of more than $20 million to fight Ebola. 

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But another an emerging program for ocean conservation was announced last year, which recently gave $2.6 million to better manage fisheries. Allen reportedly hates the sound of the ocean, but I guess he doesn’t hold a grudge against it. 

Related: Yet Another Mega-Billionaire Is Getting Into Marine Conservation

The big give to the University of British Columbia gives us a better idea of what Allen’s science-y oceans program will focus on. And, like so many things do these days, this grant is all about data. (I’m thinking of starting a “data jar,” where I deposit a dollar every time I say "big data.")

Many researchers and funders are seeing potential in using new tools to better understand what’s happening under the water. The Moore Foundation, for example, has probably been the leader in applying new technologies to the field with its Marine Microbiology Initiative. And the Simons Foundation’s new SCOPE program represents an explosion of new money into using computing and data for ocean research and conservation.


The Allen grant supports the university’s Sea Around Us program, which compiles data on fish catches in Africa and Asia to get a better hold on fishing’s impact on ecosystems, and to enable countries to make informed conservation decisions. It also funds FishBase, an unintentionally funny-sounding online database of fish. The initiative will be somewhat modeled on the Great Elephant Census, another conservation database project.

While this looks to be the largest marine grant the Allen Family Foundation has made since the announcement of the oceans program in 2013, the funder has been splashing around here and there for quite some time. 

For example, Allen recently agreed to work on a program in Indonesia related to manta ray conservation. And the funder recently announced its Ocean Challenge, a research competition to take on the problem of acidification. To learn more about Allen’s giving, see our profile below.

Related: Paul Allen IP profile