Project Lead: Synchronicity Earth
Financial and Institutional Support: Aurum
Location: Southeast Asia, Pacific Islands
The Ocean is Earth’s life support system – feeding billions of people, storing 16 times as much carbon as land-based ecosystems, and underpinning numerous highly biodiverse ecosystems. Yet the ocean is in crisis: climate change, rampant overfishing, long-term pollution, and emergent extractive industries are driving key ocean systems to the brink of collapse.
The Neptune Fund will provide a source of vital, targeted funding for critical yet overlooked and underfunded marine conservation challenges. In particular, it will provide long-term support to locally-led and grassroots organisations working at the front line of ocean conservation in Small Island Developing States and Coastal Least Developed Countries.
By significantly and immediately increasing funding for ocean conservation, donors to the Neptune Fund can help to protect and restore the ocean both for the incredible variety of life it holds, and for its vital role in ensuring human livelihoods, health, and wellbeing. Traditional endowments lock up capital in perpetuity. Our view is that we need to solve key ocean conservation problems in a shorter timeframe, putting both capital and income to work
There is an urgent need for increased, long-term funding to support effective ocean conservation action. Mainstream ocean conservation efforts struggle to halt and reverse the decline in ocean health, while the ocean’s most reliable custodians—the people and communities who have long depended on it for sustenance—have often been overlooked and disenfranchised in efforts to protect it.
Locally-led work is one of the most effective and equitable way to achieve conservation goals. However, marine funding skews heavily towards grant recipients in North America and large conservation organisations. According to the ‘Funding the Ocean’ marine philanthropy tracker, 70 per cent of grants between 2020 and 2022 served the North America region, compared to 1 per cet for Oceania. Philanthropic support is also largely time-limited and project focused. Funding is urgently needed to support locally-led conservation action in regions where ocean biodiversity is most abundant and facing significant and worsening threats. This is exacerbated by a desperate lack of long-term, core support to allow local partners to develop their approaches, invest in people and equipment, and achieve long-term conservation success.
The Neptune Fund will work to help redress this imbalance by providing long-term, core funding to effective, locally-led conservation in the Global South. Initially, the fund will focus mainly on Southeast Asia, Melanesia and the East Indian Ocean, regions with exceptionally high levels of marine biodiversity, but which face key gaps in resourcing.
How the Fund works
The fund is an expendable endowment, set up and managed by Synchronicity Earth (a charity registered in England and Wales), governed by the laws of England and Wales, that allows both capital and income to be spent on ocean conservation. For a donor, this model means that a single donation to The Neptune Fund will be working towards ocean conservation action for the crucial period of the next 8-10 years. For organisations supported by the fund, it means better planning for annual funding cycles and increased access to core operational support, ultimately making them more effective.
The Neptune Fund gives donors the opportunity to provide long-term support—either through a single donation or a series of donations—and plug the gaps left by more traditional fundraising approaches. It aims to:
• grow donations over time;
• put donations to work over the long-term, providing a stable source of annuity funding to key organisations and groups working on ocean conservation; and
• bring donors together to provide coordinated and strategic funding for ocean conservation.
Aurum Fund Management Ltd. (“Aurum”) has provided seed funding to the Neptune Fund. Aurum is a hedge fund investment specialist and manages fund of hedge fund products for investors around the world. Aurum is an Embedded Impact™ business making donations to philanthropic causes in proportion to the size of its assets under management. Aurum also makes charitable donations from the investment management fees it receives from two Embedded Impact funds. This approach provides philanthropic funding to protect and restore biodiversity and support humanitarian issues. Aurum were proud to support this innovative approach to funding locally-led and long-term ocean conservation, collaborating with other donors in the Neptune Fund.
Grant-making for the fund is managed by Synchronicity Earth, which supports some of the most challenging and underfunded biodiversity issues, particularly through local and grassroots organisations. All partners supported by the fund will undergo Synchronicity Earth’s tailored due diligence process. They will also be offered ongoing support beyond grant funding, where necessary, including guidance for organisational development, training on fundraising strategies, and connections with other NGOs and experts.
The Neptune Fund’s advisory board will work with Synchronicity Earth’s Programme team to make funding decisions and review progress. Donors to the fund will receive an annual report on the organisations funded, the impact of their work, and the fundraising and investment performance of the Neptune Fund. On set-up, the fund stands at over USD$500,000 and the investment policy of Synchronicity Earth aims for an investment return of 4 per cent to 8 per cent annually.
Strategically, the fund will be aligned with Synchronicity Earth’s wider Ocean Programme, and will focus on two key areas of ocean conservation funding which are currently overlooked and underfunded:
• Communities and Culture: Championing the role of local community and Indigenous knowledge, culture, and experience in ocean conservation and fisheries management.
• Species and Ecosystems: Supporting targeted conservation action for some of the most threatened and overlooked marine species and ecosystems.
Synchronicity Earth has funded ocean work since 2010. It launched a revised and expanded Ocean Programme in 2021, with a broader strategy, specifically to increase support for locally-led groups and in that time has brought on board 10 new partners, distributed over USD$640,000 in funding, and supported work which has reached over 6,250 people in training, engagement or environmental education.
The fund will seek to support these partners in the first round of funding:
Alifa Haque – conserving sharks and rays in the Bay of Bengal
Alifa Haque leads the Bengal Elasmo Lab collaboration, which is working to conserve the Critically Endangered sharks and rays in Bangladesh’s Bay of Bengal. Alifa’s journey towards shark and ray conservation began with regular visits to the fish landing sites and fishing communities around the bay. By working with these communities to monitor sharks and rays caught by artisanal fisheries, she began learning about the challenges faced by local fishers and the obstacles preventing them from adhering to policies and regulations.
Alifa’s meaningful connections with these communities has allowed the Bengal Elasmo Lab to work with them to monitor the species they catch, filling critical information gaps about this mega-diverse region of the ocean. The lab is now piloting a live-release campaign to encourage safe release of sawfish, and developing a National Action Plan for Sawfishes to create an institutional framework for sawfish conservation in Bangladesh.
Save Andaman Network – Community Seagrass Restoration in Southern Thailand
Save Andaman Network is a locally led Thai organisation committed to conserving the unique environment along Thailand’s Andaman coastline. Save Andaman Network is a collaboration of six social development NGOs in Thailand, which came together in 2004 to support the recovery of highly vulnerable coastal communities following the devastating tsunami that year. Through this time it has built strong roots with these communities, and seeks to support and strengthen their participation in marine and coastal resource management.
In 2022, Save Andaman Network launched the Community Seagrass Restoration Project, which is focused on testing approaches to seagrass restoration in this region, and working with communities to implement best-practice through local level seagrass restoration efforts. Alongside this, Save Andaman Network is working closely with communities across these three sites to assess and survey seagrass habitat, develop participatory agreements around fisheries closures and area protections to protect seagrasses, and train community members in seagrass restoration and monitoring techniques.
Piku Biodiversity Network – protecting a biodiversity hotspot in Papua New Guinea
The Piku Biodiversity Network is a coalition of individuals and organisations working collectively to conserve and manage the biodiversity of Papua New Guinea. They base their activities along the Kikori River and its delta. The latter is an ocean biodiversity hotspot home to 41 species of sharks and rays, 28 of which are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Since its founding, Piku Biodiversity Network has become the go-to organisation for facilitating research and conservation in the Gulf Province of Papua New Guinea. The team is monitoring local populations of endangered marine species including sawfishes and wedgefishes. Early results indicate large populations in the delta, but also suggest that overfishing is impacting the abundance of these species.
The next stage of this work for Piku Biodiversity Network is to develop a new sharks and rays education programme aimed at local fishing communities, many of whom are unaware of the precarity of global shark and ray populations, in order to strengthen monitoring efforts and catalyse community-led conservation of these highly threatened species.
Scalability and Next Steps
Over the next five years, the fund will focus on the following key areas of work:
• Supporting locally-led initiatives to conserve overlooked species and ecosystems;
• Supporting the holistic restoration of habitats;
• Supporting research and mapping of some of the most threatened species and ecosystems;
• Supporting community-led marine conservation or small-scale fisheries management initiatives;
• Supporting the revitalisation, celebration and regeneration of sacred sites, rituals, languages, and practices that are linked to the ocean and its long-term health; and
• Assisting communities in their work to secure rights to use and manage marine areas.
“One of the first things that I found was that gaining trust of people is not something that you get in a year or two. It’s something that takes time, something that takes consistency. It took me four years before communities would listen to what I was saying. Today we mobilise 10 tribes across over 50 villages to work with the conservation of 6 species of turtles, 41 species of sharks and rays, two dolphin species and one just recently documented whale species.” – Yolarnie Amepou, Director of the Piku Biodiversity Network.