On June 17th, actor Leonardo DiCaprio stood before the U.S. State Department’s “Our Oceans” conference to discuss his plans to give a generous $7 million to “meaningful conservation projects” over the next two years. Following President Obama’s statements pledging commitment to marine life protection in U.S. waters of the Pacific Ocean, DiCaprio spoke with hope for a global commitment to marine protection, stating that more of the world’s governments need to take measures to protect marine biodiversity and prevent overfishing. An avid diver and marine enthusiast, DiCaprio said his very first philanthropic dollar was given to save wild manatees off the coast of Florida and has since become an international advocate for marine and wildlife conservation through his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which pledged $3 million to Oceana earlier this year.
"I’ve learned about the incredibly important role our oceans play on the survival of all life on Earth and I’ve decided to join so many people here today, and others, that are working here today to protect this vital treasure," he said before the State Department. Denouncing illegal night poaching and common industrial fishing techniques like bottom trawling, DiCaprio made it clear he wants this gesture to be a first step in a string of better partnerships between government and conservation organizations. He continued, "We need to do much more to scale these commitments globally, continuously building more urgency and momentum to match the magnitude of this massive global challenge."
Through the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, DiCaprio has worked with the World Wildlife Fund, Antarctic Ocean Alliance, and Concern Worldwide on initiatives to protect our shrinking rainforests and fragile arctic ecosystems, as well as provide 430,000 people in Tanzania, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Darfur with sustainable access to clean water. The Foundation has funded grassroots movements throughout the world that have helped save tigers from extinction in Nepal, protect elephants from ivory poaching with the Elephant Crisis Fund in Kenya, and preserve five of the most threatened shark species throughout the world, working with legislatures to establish secure international trade sanctions placed on threatened species.
DiCaprio has also released two short films online, Global Warning (2003) and Water Planet (2005), to raise awareness on key ecological issues, as well as a full-length documentary titled The 11th Hour, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007 and spoke to the devastating role human impact has played on climate change and the dramatic loss of global biodiversity. He also has used social media outlets to expose the public to key issues and gain grassroots support.
Hopefully this gesture from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation will encourage further allegiances between governments and conservation groups that can work together to protect fragile ecosystems around the world and lead the globe to a more sustainable future.