The headquarters of the Benioff Ocean Initiative resides in the Marine Science Building located near Bren Hall and the Ocean Science Education Building. According to McCauley, this initiative will serve as a hospital for oceans. Courtesy of

About 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in ocean, and about 97 percent of Earth’s water comes from the oceans.

Vast as the ocean may be, it’s still susceptible to problems such as overfishing, ocean acidification, dying coral reefs, pollution and even the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. However, a recently established foundation at UC Santa Barbara aims to eliminate the wide array of ocean problems.

The Benioff Ocean Initiative (BOI) is a foundation focused on helping universities understand the pressing problems the world’s oceans face. The BOI aims to find solutions resulting in cleaner and healthier oceans.

“The Benioff Ocean Initiative is defining, prioritizing, analyzing and understanding the issues that face our oceans,” Pierre Wiltzius, the Susan & Bruce Worster dean of science and executive dean of the College of Letters and Science, said. “It does this through crowd sourcing, gathering information from as broad an audience as possible and putting the best scientific minds to work.”

The BOI was founded when Marc Benioff, founder, chairman and CEO of Salesforce, an American cloud computing company, contacted Doug McCauley, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology and director of the BOI. After much discussion, the establishment of the Benioff Ocean Initiative took off in mid-September. More than $10 million have been donated as a leadership gift to UCSB by Marc and his wife, Lynne Benioff.

Using the Initiative’s website, people can submit an ocean problem from anywhere in the world.

“We’ve already received submissions from people in over 15 countries around the world,” McCauley said. “These are some amazing ideas in the mix: requests to help fix problems on light pollution in the oceans, to design an alert system to help reduce shark attacks and to map all the world’s vulnerable coral reefs using satellites.”

After each submission, marine biologists at the BOI review it using specific criteria. The criteria involves finding a solution that can be applied in the short-term and globally. Once a problem is chosen, leading marine biologists to UCSB to create a solution with a little more than a million dollars invested in the project.

“We assemble a team of the best biological and physical scientists, engineers, economists and social scientists to address the specific problem and come up with an action plan. Then we support the actual solution in the real world,” Robert Warner, research professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, said.

Every solution created serves as a paradigm for other places and people facing the same marine environmental issue.

UC Santa Barbara was a clear choice in determining the foundation for the BOI on campus. UCSB is a research-based institution with a forefront in marine conservation biology, and the BOI fits the already existing expertise on this campus.

“We want UCSB to be both known as the place that used cutting edge research to describe how much plastic pollution was going into the ocean, and the place that helped do something about this problem,” McCauley said.

McCauley states UCSB has always been ahead of the curve in finding new ways to make the campus more valuable to the world around us.

The BOI allows undergraduate and graduate students to become directly involved in the process by allowing them to work in the labs in charge of finding solutions to the problems submitted, ultimately making a difference in the oceans, thus placing UCSB in a valuable leadership position in science-based solutions and, more specifically, marine conservation.

The BOI has the tremendous power for global impact. Locally solved ocean problems can be applied on a global scale. The abundant resources available to the Initiative shows huge potential for a positive impact on marine environments all over the world.

The team of scientists and researchers at the BOI will begin selecting problems and coming up with solutions in early 2017. Anyone can submit an idea for ocean change by visiting the Benioff Ocean Initiative website at