To improve and protect the health of our oceans through science and technology, Marc and Lynne Benioff have donated $60 million to UC Santa Barbara, one of the world’s premier marine research centers.
The new donation is the largest ever for marine research at UC Santa Barbara—and one of the largest known donations in support of marine research ever.
The donation builds on the Benioffs’ legacy of helping the campus address ocean issues and advance science-based solutions, and establishes the new Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory. They have previously invested more than $28 million in marine programs and collaborative partnerships at UC Santa Barbara.
“We are deeply grateful to Marc and Lynne Benioff for their extraordinary generosity,” said UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang. “This transformative gift to found the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory underscores the Benioffs’ continued commitment to marine science, which seeks to address the most pressing issues facing the marine environment of our time. The lab builds on the achievements of the Benioff Ocean Initiative, whose groundbreaking research, led by Professor Douglas McCauley, has advanced our knowledge and understanding of marine ecosystems and encouraged innovative solutions to the world’s ocean problems.
“We appreciate Marc and Lynne’s unwavering commitment to protecting the environment, and we are honored to be partnering with UC Santa Barbara on the Benioff Ocean Initiative and Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory,” Yang continued. “It’s a testament to the trust and trust they have in our campus.”
The bulk of this transformative philanthropy, $50 million, will go towards expanding the important work of the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory (formerly the Benioff Ocean Initiative). The remaining $10 million will be invested in upgrading and renovating the university’s Marine Biotechnology Lab, a world-class marine research facility overlooking Campus Point. The building will be renamed after the Benioffs to honor their dedication to marine exploration.
“Around the world, our ocean and the millions of species that inhabit it, and the billions of people who depend on a healthy ocean, are at risk. The escalating damage to our oceans from climate change and other threats cannot be the legacy we are passing on to future generations,” said Marc Benioff. “Lynne and I are so grateful to be able to support the incredible community of marine scientists at UC Santa Barbara and the collaboration they have built with marine scientists on an international scale to develop the innovative solutions needed to advance our… To make oceans and our planet healthy again.”
In 2016, with a $10 million donation, the Benioffs founded the Benioff Ocean Initiative at UC Santa Barbara — an initiative that has since become a globally respected model for using science to collectively solve the world’s most pressing ocean problems and replicate it of these successes.
And there have been successes.
The newly renamed Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory group worked with researchers worldwide on Whale Safe, California’s first automated whale detection system. The system is designed to prevent whale ship collisions – a key threat to the recovery of vulnerable whale populations – and is based on artificial intelligence, whale abundance data and satellite data. Whale Safe was piloted on the Santa Barbara Channel. The Benioff Oceans team today announced the launch of an extension system off the coast of San Francisco to help reduce whale deaths in the Bay Area.
Additionally, the scientists have partnered with communities around the world in the Clean Currents Coalition to develop new ways to curb ocean plastic pollution by first catching it in rivers. Teams in Ecuador, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Panama, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have developed technology to capture more than 2 million pounds of plastic waste and divert most of it for reuse or recycling. A semi-autonomous interceptor known as the “garbage wheel” has just been launched in Panama – a milestone in the global fight against plastic pollution.
“I applaud the Benioffs’ gift to UC Santa Barbara,” said Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN special envoy to the ocean. “It is a great contribution in support of the UN Decade of Marine Sciences. I look forward to the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory delivering the good science we need for the healthy ocean we want.”
The Benioff Oceans group has also developed new tools for detecting sharks with drones to encourage coexistence between humans and sharks; harnessing the power of big data in the ocean to help establish new ocean protected areas and strategically manage the high seas; and used science to raise awareness of how new industrial activities such as marine mining could negatively impact ocean health.
With an important mission to advance diversity in marine science and the development of marine solutions, the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory provides paid internships for UC Santa Barbara students from Black, Indigenous, Hispanic and other underrepresented communities and works on outreach and training programs for the ocean together. and supporting ocean environmental justice research.
next up? The lab is in the planning stages for a $10 million challenge to contribute to the global effort to halt the progression of climate change. The formal launch of this new climate project and more details on the effort will be released next year.
“I’m proud of everything our team has achieved so far at UC Santa Barbara. But the most important work is yet to come,” said McCauley, the lab’s director. “The Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory is excited to devote the full force of science at UC Santa Barbara to the urgent fight against climate change. It’s not just the ocean that depends on winning the climate battle – we all do.”
Much of that work will certainly take place in what is now known as the Marine Biotechnology Lab Building, which for decades served as the epicenter for marine research at UC Santa Barbara, housing researchers and students from across campus. Scientists based there have contributed to major discoveries, including advances in materials science inspired by abalone, squid and other marine species; leading research on carbon and silicon cycles in the ocean; the innovation of new plastics that are mined in the sea; and promising new ways to capture more CO2 from the air and store it in the ocean to slow climate change.
These facilities are being modernized and significantly enhanced thanks to the Benioffs, whose gift represents an unprecedented investment in the future of marine science at UC Santa Barbara. Also, in recognition of her legacy commitment—and in her honor—the building will be renamed the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory.
“This transformative gift will build on the existing success of the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory team, supporting cutting-edge research and technological advances that will help us better understand our marine environment and apply actionable solutions to the problems they face,” said Pierre Wiltzius, Susan and Bruce Worster Dean of Science at UC Santa Barbara. “With the extraordinary vision and generosity of the Benioffs, UC Santa Barbara has cemented its status as one of the premier marine research institutions on the West Coast.”
Dive deeper into the work and achievements of the Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory here.