Ocean conservation leaders are working across the globe to take on the most challenging problems facing the ocean, starting at a local level. MCAF aims to ensure these conservation leaders have the financial and professional resources to achieve key ocean conservation gains and the platform to amplify their work.

The Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) is a microgranting and fellowship program that addresses critical needs in the marine conservation field, including rapid turnaround funding for urgent, time-sensitive projects and support for early-stage, entrepreneurial projects led by local conservation leaders in low and middle-income countries. Since it was founded in 1999, MCAF has supported more than 190 projects in more than 60 countries and across six continents.

MCAF has supported conservation leaders gathering key data on imperiled marine species and engaging communities through local conservation projects. Through these efforts, conservation leaders are creating solutions that benefit ocean health and support food security and livelihoods for local communities.

What is MCAF?

MCAF strives to support ocean conservation leaders in ways that go beyond grant-making. We seek to build enduring relationships with MCAF grantees, and offer professional support through connecting them with the expertise of Anderson Cabot Center scientists and a global network of their peers. We work to promote and magnify the impact of MCAF grantees’ work through the New England Aquarium’s public platforms, and share best practices within the conservation community.

MCAF has been instrumental in strengthening our work in marine conservation. By providing small grants, MCAF has allowed us to implement projects that can achieve broad impact and later be scaled in time.
- MCAF Fellow Kerstin Forsberg, Founder and Director of Planeta Océano

Through these strategies, we strive to ensure that MCAF grantees have the support they need to remain impactful leaders in ocean conservation over the long term, and that their challenges and successes will inform future efforts and inspire and energize the next generation of ocean conservation leaders.

Dr. Ricardo Tapilatu in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Bird’s Head Leatherback Program.

Recently Funded Projects

  1. Gaining insights into the effects of COVID- 19 on coastal fisheries in Sri Lanka

    Oceanswell is Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research and education nonprofit organization and was founded by MCAF Fellow and renowned blue whale scientist, Dr. Asha de Vos. Recently, MCAF helped support a timely project led by Asha and the Oceanswell team to understand the impacts of the global pandemic on fishing communities in Sri Lanka. Specifically, the team worked to understand the on-ground perils that the fishing communities face due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the support the Sri Lankan government rendered towards these communities and how this affected their lives. Through involving local students this project helped to empower the next generation of local ocean heroes with strong relationships in their own communities. In this piece the authors, Oceanswell’s Program Officer, Nadiya Azmy and Intern Arpana Giritharan, talk about their experiences working on this groundbreaking project while facing safety and curfew restrictions.

  2. The Haiti Ocean Project – Research and Conservation of Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

    In 2017, with support in part from MCAF the Haiti Ocean Project (HOP) launched a marine ecosystem monitoring network in collaboration with local fishers to gather data on top level species in the Canal de la Gonave, Haiti. The network made many exciting discoveries including documenting numerous sightings of juvenile oceanic whitetip sharks. In this post Jamie Aquino, President and Founder of the HOP and Claude Pressoir, HOP’s shark coordinator, talk about their efforts to study and protect this population of critically endangered sharks in Haitian waters.

  3. Discovering the Secrets of the Giant Manta in Costa Rica

    MCAF grantee Ilena Zanella, shark and ray scientist and co-founder of Misión Tiburón Costa Rica, shares news of their project to study and protect giant manta rays in Costa Rica. MCAF has helped to support the efforts of Misión Tiburón since 2010 as they have worked to conduct research, advocacy, outreach and education programs centered on shark and ray conservation in Costa Rica.

Learn more about MCAF projects on our multilingual blog or by exploring this interactive map.

Map of MCAF Projects

Support and Funding Process

  1. Support

    MCAF is generously supported by the Akiko Shiraki Dynner Fund for Ocean Exploration and Conservation, The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, New England Biolabs Foundation, and individual donors. The launch of the MCAF Fellows Program was supported in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

    For more information about the MCAF Program please contact MCAF Director, Elizabeth Stephenson at estephenson@neaq.org

  2. MCAF Funding Process

    MCAF recognizes that lasting change requires investment in local leadership. Therefore, as of 2021, project leaders that are new to MCAF, must be a national of the low or middle-income country or the broader region where the work is taking place. Highest priority is also given to organizations whose leadership are nationals of the country where the work is taking place.

    Successful projects are those focused on science-based solutions to pressing conservation problems, those that develop local capacity for conservation, and those that work closely with stakeholders and communities towards lasting, systemic change.

    MCAF proposals are reviewed on a rolling basis by an advisory committee made up of scientists from the Anderson Cabot Center and leading NGOs from around the world. The committee seeks to ensure that MCAF funds the initiatives with the greatest potential to have a meaningful conservation impact.

    MCAF grants range from $1,000 to $10,000.

    For funding inquiries, please send a paragraph about your proposed project along with a brief bio of the project lead, and an approximate budget and timeline to MCAF Director Elizabeth Stephenson at estephenson@neaq.org and MCAF Program Officer Emily Duwan eduwan@neaq.org. We will then advise as to whether we would like to invite a full proposal.

The MCAF Fellows Program

Through the MCAF Fellows Program, launched in 2015, the New England Aquarium has developed enduring partnerships with proven conservation leaders to help them catalyze lasting conservation outcomes. MCAF invests in these leaders over the long-term through a multi-faceted approach that includes financial, technical and professional resources, mentoring and community-building to support the success of Fellows’ conservation initiatives; their professional growth and resilience; the sustainability of their organizations; and their efforts to develop the next generation of ocean leaders.

In the fall of 2019, the New England Aquarium hosted the inaugural MCAF Fellows Summit where fellows strengthened their sense of community, explored collaborations with one another, grew their network and shared their vision and expertise with the Aquarium and audiences in greater Boston.

2022 Call for Fellowship Applications

We are seeking visionary leaders for our Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF), a microgranting and fellowship program that supports worldwide ocean conservation initiatives. For the first time, we are offering an open call for fellowship applications! Learn more and apply by May 10, 2022 »

Meet the MCAF Fellows

  1. Anna Oposa MCAF

    Anna Oposa
    2019 Fellow

    Co-Founder, Executive Director,
    Chief Mermaid
    Save Philippine Seas 

  2. Nelly Kadagi MCAF Fellow 2019

    Nelly Kadagi, Ph.D.
    2019 Fellow
    Director of Research,
    African Billfish Foundation

  3. John Flynn MCAF

    John Flynn
    2018 Fellow
    Founder and Conservation Director,
    Wildseas, Ghana

  4. Flo mcaf
  5. Tom Mcaf

    Tomas Diagne
    2017 Fellow

    Founder and Director,
    African Chelonian Institute, Senegal
    Rolex Associate Laureate

  6. Daniel MCAF

    Daniel Fernando
    2017 Fellow
    Co-Founder and Director,
    Blue Resources Trust, Sri Lanka
    Associate Director, Manta Trust 

  7. LUCY MCAF

    Lucy Keith-Diagne, Ph.D.
    2017 Fellow
    Founder and Director,
    African Aquatic Conservation Fund, Senegal
    National Geographic Explorer, Pew Marine Fellow

  8. AndresLopez mcaf 2017 fellow

    Andrés López
    2017 Fellow
    Co-Founder, Misión Tiburón
    Costa Rica

  9. Kerstin Forsberg
    2016 Fellow

    Founder and Director,
    Planeta Océano, Peru
    Rolex Laureate

  10. Ruth Leeney, Ph.D.
    2016 Fellow

    Founder and Director,
    Protect Africas Sawfishes
    National Geographic Explorer

  11. Shah Selbe
    2016 Fellow

    Founder and Director,
    Conservify, U.S. National Geographic Fellow
    Emerging Explorer

  12. Asha de Vos, Ph.D.
    2015 Fellow

    Founder and Director,
    Oceanswell, Sri Lanka
    Pew Marine Fellow
    National Geographic Emerging Explorer

Early Career Ocean Professionals (ECOP) Program

ECOP awardee Jonathan Triminio

In June 2021, MCAF launched the early career ocean professionals’ program (ECOP), to support the development of the next generation of ocean leaders in low and middle-income countries (LMIC). The Early Career Ocean Professionals (ECOP) program is a microgranting program aimed at emerging leaders from low and middle-income countries who only have a few years of career experience. MCAF ECOP awardees lead their own small project with the mentorship and guidance of MCAF fellows and grantees. The goal of the ECOP program is to provide supportive pathways to careers in ocean conservation and to elevate the critical role of mentors.

Dr. Asha de Vos, founder of Oceanswell and an MCAF Fellow has said “to save our oceans, every coastline needs a local hero.” Through the ECOP program we are striving to ensure there are local heroes on coastlines across the globe.

Pictured: ECOP awardee Jonathan Triminio of the Crocodile Research Coalition is studying the impact of pollution on Morelet’s Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) in northern Belize

Meet the 2021 ECOP awardees »

UN Ocean Decade Logo

UN Ocean Decade

In 2021, the MCAF Program’s collaborative proposal with nine MCAF Fellows and Grantees was endorsed by the UN Ocean Decade. The United Nations has proclaimed a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) to promote international collaborations to combat the ocean’s biggest challenges today. The project, titled “The Ripple Effect – Capacity Development for the Ocean,” focuses on collectively scaling up the support of local leaders in their efforts to develop conservation capacity in stakeholders such as fishers, youth, community members, and new emerging leaders in ocean conservation. We are extremely excited to work with our project partners below to help achieve the Decade’s goals by 2030. We are extremely excited to work with our project partners below to help achieve the Decade’s goals by 2030.

Project partners:

Anna OposaSave PhilippineSeas

Andrés López and Ilena Zanella, Misión Tiburón Costa Rica

Kerstin ForsbergPlaneta Océano

Daniel FernandoBlue ResourcesTrust

Nelly Noela Kadagi, PhD, Billfish WIO Project and WWF Education for Nature Program

Lucy Keith-Diagne, PhD African Aquatic Conservation Fund

Tomas DiagneAfrican Chelonian Institute

John Flynn, Neil Kwabena Davis and Eric Quayson, Wildseas Bahari Karuna

Jamie Aquino and Francklin Barbier, Haiti Ocean Project (HOP)

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