As part of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors’ new mission and values, we are featuring in-depth profiles of key sponsored projects to highlight their work in creating a just world. Shark Conservation Fund (SCF) is a collaboration of philanthropists dedicated to restoring ocean health through sweeping shark and ray conservation. Their goal is to help maintain the vibrancy of the world’s oceans by halting the overexploitation of sharks and rays and preventing extinctions through strategic, collaborative, and catalytic grantmaking.

RPA spoke with the Executive Director of the Shark Conservation Fund, Lee Crockett, about SCF’s work. Lee discussed SCF’s origins, why shark conservation is an important environmental issue, and offered advice for funders looking to get involved in climate. This interview reflects edits for length and clarity.

What was the impetus for creating Shark Conservation Fund?

In 2015, a group of philanthropists were interested in shark conservation and thought they would be more effective if they worked together instead of individually. They pulled together like-minded philanthropists, set up a structure, and a pooled fund that they housed at RPA as a sponsored project. SCF began with five members, and they are up to eight now. They developed a strategy and operating rules, and formally announced the initiative at the Our Ocean Conference in Washington DC, September 2016. Leonardo DiCaprio, who was a founding member, addressed the conference and talked about the importance of shark conservation and the new collaborative, along with several other ocean issues. A majority of SCF board representatives are environmental lawyers or have backgrounds in environmental policy; they bring together decades of experience. A funder collaborative is beneficial because we take advantage of that pooled expertise, and the aggregate revenue allows us to do more than any single entity can do from a grantmaking perspective.

I was hired in January of 2017 as Executive Director. My first order of business was to develop a strategy that would guide our grantmaking for our first five years. We focused on regulating global trade, protecting the most endangered species, and combating unsustainable fishing.

Why is shark conversation such a pressing issue?

Sharks are top-level predators, and they play a crucial role in ocean ecosystems. There are plenty of examples in the terrestrial environment of the harm that is done when a top-level predator is removed. For example, in Yellowstone, wolves were killed off, causing the elk population to explode; the elk ate all the underbrush, altering the habitat which impacted all other animals. This same phenomenon occurs in the ocean. Work we are funding shows that seagrass beds—which are an important underwater habitat—are devastated without sharks. With sharks absent, grazers like turtles and dugongs clean out the seagrass, destroying the habitat that is so critical to healthy marine ecosystems. We argue that this demonstrates that sharks are a keystone species that are critical to the biodiversity of our oceans.

Read the full article about shark conservation at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.