Innovating to Save the Seas

New gift from Marc and Lynne Benioff propels work to heal our oceans

From saving whales to arresting the influx of plastics, the challenges facing Earth’s oceans are as vast as the seas themselves. Solutions will require science, ingenuity and innovative technology.

In recognition of this reality — and driven to improve and safeguard the health of our oceans — Marc and Lynne Benioff gifted the university, one of the world’s most important marine research centers, with $60 million. Their donation is the largest ever for ocean science at UC Santa Barbara — and one of the largest known gifts anywhere to support ocean research.

The gift builds on the Benioffs’ legacy of support to the campus to address ocean problems and advance science-based solutions, and it establishes the new Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory.

“We are deeply grateful to Marc and Lynne Benioff for their extraordinary generosity,” says Chancellor Henry Yang. “This transformative gift establishing the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory underscores the Benioffs’ continuing commitment to marine science research that seeks to address the most pressing ocean environmental issues of our time. The laboratory builds on the achievements of the Benioff Ocean Initiative, whose groundbreaking research under the direction of Professor Douglas McCauley has expanded our knowledge and understanding of marine ecosystems and promoted innovative solutions to the concerns facing our world’s oceans.”

The bulk of this philanthropy, $50 million, will go toward expanding the work of the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory (formerly the Benioff Ocean Initiative). The remaining $10 million will be invested to upgrade and renovate the university’s Marine Biotechnology Lab, a premier ocean research facility overlooking Campus Point. The building will be renamed for the Benioffs, to honor their commitment to ocean science.

“Around the world, our ocean and the millions of species that inhabit it, as well as the billions of people who depend upon a healthy ocean, are in danger. The escalating damage to our ocean from climate change and other threats cannot be the legacy we pass along to future generations,” says Marc Benioff. “Lynne and I are so thankful we are able to support the incredible marine science community at UC Santa Barbara and the collaborations they’ve forged with ocean scientists internationally to develop the innovative solutions needed to help bring our oceans and planet back to health.”

 

The escalating damage to our ocean from climate change and other threats cannot be the legacy we pass along to future generations.

Among its many projects around the world, the Benioff Oceans team led by McCauley has partnered with researchers on Whale Safe, California’s first automated whale detection system. Meant to prevent whale-ship collisions — a leading threat to endangered whale population recovery — the system is powered by artificial intelligence, whale occurrence data and satellite data. Whale Safe was piloted in the Santa Barbara Channel and has now been expanded off the coast of San Francisco to help reduce whale deaths in the Bay Area. Through the global Clean Currents Coalition, they are helping to pioneer new methods for reducing plastic pollution in the ocean by capturing it first in rivers. Technologies have been developed to intercept more than 2 million pounds of plastic waste and divert the majority of it to be repurposed or recycled, including by way of a semiautonomous interceptor, or “trash wheel,” launched recently in Panama.

The group also is engaged in efforts to promote the coexistence of people and sharks, to establish new marine protected areas, to foster awareness of the negative impacts of industrial activities in the ocean, and to promote diversity in ocean science and support research on environmental justice Coming up: a $10 million challenge with climate change in its sights.

“I’m proud of all that our team has been able to achieve thus far at UC Santa Barbara. But the most important work is ahead,” says McCauley. “The Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory is excited to dedicate the full power of UC Santa Barbara science to the urgent fight against climate change. Not only does the ocean depend on winning the climate battle — we all do.”


Fall / Winter 2022

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