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Pioneers of Progress: Mark Spalding

Can the ocean be protected? Pioneer Mark Spalding and The Ocean Foundation are on a mission to restore the health of the ocean.

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The ocean is the basis for life on Earth

Protecting the planet’s most important ecosystem

By connecting conservation organizations and non-profits with the financial support they need, The Ocean Foundation is helping communities across the globe protect the ocean environments they depend on.
It’s almost 40 years since Mark Spalding first set foot in the beachfront town of Loreto on Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. It was a trip that changed the direction of his life, and the prospects for the region’s marine environment. 

Mark fell in love with Loreto and returned year after year, captivated by the seas that were once described by the great naturalist Jacques Cousteau as “the world’s aquarium.” However, Mark gradually became aware that the region’s rich marine biodiversity was being depleted by overfishing. 

As a result, he decided to take a lead on restoring the ocean ecosystem. He has become increasingly involved in sustainability advocacy since the mid-1990s through his work with the Environmental Law and Civil Society Program and as Editor of the Journal of Environment and Development.

In 2003, he was appointed President of The Ocean Foundation. One of his first acts was to launch a project to reverse the damage to marine life that he had witnessed first-hand in the waters off Loreto.

“A great example was the chocolate clam. Over-harvested from the shores around Loreto, it became almost extinct, and that was just a horrible outcome. Many partners participated with The Ocean Foundation to get a national park established in front of Loreto. We mobilized a team to research and work with the national park to restore the chocolate clam fishery.”

This small bivalve may seem insignificant alongside iconic ocean creatures like whales, sharks and dolphins, but as Mark explains, many other forms of marine life are dependent on it. “When you take out an entire species group like the chocolate clam that filters the water, it affects the water quality up and down the coast.” 

Did you know that the ocean is the basis for life on earth?

Building communities to protect the ocean

Saving one species of clam is a small win in the context of the scale of the global threat to the world’s oceans but The Ocean Foundation is committed to the belief that the damage already caused can be repaired.

That commitment is defined by Mark, who sees the foundation’s unique approach to restoration and conservation as the way to achieve this.

“The Ocean Foundation has a mission to support those actors who are reversing the trend of destruction of ocean environments around the world,” he says, adding that it is the world’s only community foundation focused on marine conservation.

Did you know the value of ocean assets makes it the 7th largest economy in the world?

Connecting funds and expertise for maximum impact

Central to The Ocean Foundation’s role is its fundraising capability. Each year, it secures millions of dollars from governments, philanthropic donors, private foundations, and corporates. It then evaluates the capacity of marine conservation projects to make a real difference. For Mark, the key to success is connecting funds with the people who can create the biggest positive impact.

“We have more than 40 projects on six different continents. We pull together the best expertise on science, on policy, on community understanding, in order to make a difference in all of the places that we work, together with local and world-renowned experts.”

Contributing to the global effort to save the ocean

The positive impact of the work that Mark is driving forward at The Ocean Foundation is contributing to global efforts to protect the ocean and restore marine diversity.

Under the banner of the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), multiple organizations are striving to reverse the decline of marine ecosystems and create a sustainable ocean economy. SDG 14 – Life Below Water includes a range of targets that The Ocean Foundation and its partners are committed to achieving. 

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity, for people and the planet, now and into the future.

At the heart of the agenda are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all" (UN, July 6, 2017).

SDG 14 – Life Below Water aims to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development."

The other SDGs are: (1) No Poverty, (2) Zero Hunger, (3) Good Health and Well-being, (4) Quality Education, (5) Gender Equality, (6) Clean Water and Sanitation, (7) Affordable and Clean Energy, (8) Decent Work and Economic Growth, (9) Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, (10) Reduced Inequalities, (11) Sustainable Cities and Communities, (12) Responsible Consumption and Production, (13) Climate Action, (15) Life On Land, (16) Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions, (17) Partnerships for the Goals.

Mark Spalding

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  • 1983: Graduation from Claremont McKenna College.
  • 1986: Doctor of Law, Loyola Marymount University.
  • 1992: Master of Pacific International Affairs (MPIA) at UCSD School of Global Policy and Strategy.
  • 1992 – 2000: Attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, Washington DC.
  • 1994-2003: Director of the Environmental Law and Civil Society Program, and Editor of the Journal of Environment and Development, at UCSD’s Graduate School of Global Policy and Strategy.
  • 2003: President of The Ocean Foundation.
  • Expert on International Environmental Policy and Law, Ocean Policy and Law, and coastal and marine philanthropy; Member of the Ocean Studies Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (USA); Commissioner, the Sargasso Sea Commission; Senior Fellow at the Center for the Blue Economy at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies; Advisor to the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, to the Rockefeller Climate Solutions Fund and to the Credit Suisse Rockefeller Ocean Engagement Fund; Member of the Pool of Experts for the UN World Ocean Assessment and the UNEP Guidance Working Group for its Sustainable Blue Economy Finance Initiative.

The Ocean Foundation

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  • The Ocean Foundation – Charity Navigator’s highest ranked international ocean conservation charity – has done vital, often pathbreaking work, particularly regarding ocean acidification, blue carbon, sustainable blue economy, and supporting the rule of law.
  • Launched in 2002 as a community foundation by a group of coral conservation experts, venture capitalists and philanthropists around photographer and founding chair of the organisation C. Wolcott Henry. Mark Spalding was brought in as President shortly thereafter.
  • The gathering place for marine conservation donors and conservation entrepreneurs to advance global ocean solutions.
  • Providing grants, hosting projects and funds, and collaborating with important campaigns and opinion leaders.
  • Since 2003, The Ocean foundation has spent over USD $74 million on marine conservation – through grants and services – to protect marine habitat and species of concern, building the ocean conservation community’s capacity and expanding ocean literacy.

Sustainability at Credit Suisse: We're on it

Our support for ocean innovation

The world’s oceans are precious, yet pollution, climate change, and the misuse of marine resources are severely harming the health of our oceans. This endangers not only the livelihoods of the billions of people who live on the oceans’ shores, but also puts ocean-related businesses at risk.

Thanks to mission-driven pioneers, innovative companies, and the evolution of more established companies, many new products and services are being developed to help overcome the challenges facing the world’s natural environments.

Together with these players and our partners, we create ocean impact by engaging with companies aiming to unlock and improve upon game-changing opportunities.

Next episode: Mary Ellen Iskenderian of Women’s World Banking

Mary Ellen Iskenderian is President and CEO of Women’s World Banking. The global nonprofit is devoted to giving low-income women in the developing world access to the financial tools and resources they require to achieve security and prosperity.

Pioneers of Progress

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