Documenting wave action along a coral reef. Healthy coral reefs help to absorb wave impact along shores which in turn helps to prevent beach erosion.
Healthy coral help to absorb wave impact along shores © Jennifer Adler/TNC


The Nature Conservancy’s Audacious plan to save the world’s oceans

As a 2019 TED Audacious project, TNC hopes to unlock $1.6 billion in conservation funding

Today, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an international environmental non-profit organization, announced at TED in Vancouver, Canada a plan to drastically scale-up ocean conservation around the world.  By delivering Blue Bonds for Ocean Conservation in as many as 20 countries over the next five years, TNC will help ensure the new protection of up to 1.5 million square miles (4 million km2) of the world’s most biodiversity-critical ocean habitats – a 15 percent increase in the amount of protected ocean that currently exists.  This plan, which was selected from more than 1,500 The Audacious Project applicants, has already secured more than $23 million in funding from various donors out of the $40 million TNC ultimately requires to unlock $1.6 billion toward marine conservation.

Why is this important?  Scientists estimate that with business as usual, 90 percent of coral reefs will be gone within our lifetimes.  Eighty percent of global fisheries are already considered fully exploited or overexploited.  Rising seas and stronger storms threaten 40 percent of the world’s population.  Mangrove forests sequester four times more carbon than rainforests, yet they are disappearing at a pace three to five times faster.  These ecosystems provide crucial resources and protection to coastal communities and their economies.

But all is not lost.  Ocean protection, when done well, works.  Cabo Pulmo in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula established a marine protected area, and 10 years later, it has reversed the toll of decades of overfishing and increased fish stocks by more than 400 percent.  But examples like this are rare because too often island and coastal nations are deep in debt and can’t afford to pay for conservation to make their environment and economies more resilient.

“There’s still time to reverse decades of damage to the world’s oceans before we hit the point of no return,” said Mark Tercek, CEO, The Nature Conservancy.  “It’s going to take something audacious to tackle marine protection at this scale, which means thinking beyond more traditional approaches to ocean conservation.”

“To protect sea life and restore the health and productivity of our oceans, we need to protect far more of our planet’s marine areas in their natural condition," said Hansjörg Wyss, founder and chairman, The Wyss Foundation, and a funder.  “While there is no silver-bullet solution, by applying an increasingly inventive set of strategies – from new protected areas and policy reforms to smart conservation investments – countries and communities around the world are already beginning to bring life back to imperiled marine areas.”

How Does It Work?

Blue Bonds for Conservation refinance and restructure debt for coastal and island countries on a massive scale.  

At the heart of a Blue Bond is a deal.  A coastal or island nation commits to protecting at least 30 percent of its near-shore ocean areas, including coral reefs, mangroves, fish spawning sites, and other important ocean habitats and species.  In exchange, TNC helps restructure a portion of the nation’s sovereign debt, leading to lower interest rates and longer repayment periods, and supports ongoing conservation work such as improving fisheries management and reducing pollution.  

TNC’s scientists then create a marine spatial plan with input from local communities, including fishing associations, tourism businesses, and government officials.  Local engagement is critical to ensure that the plan sustainably supports the local economy while protecting habitat.

Finally, TNC establishes a trust fund to pay for the new marine protected areas and other conservation actions using savings from the debt restructuring and philanthropic dollars.  The trust fund – which is independent of the government and fully controls the funding – ensures that the government follows through with its commitment.

“Finding ways to protect lands and waters – and pay for that protection – is in our DNA,” Tercek continued.  “The Nature Conservancy has been working with nations to design marine protected areas for 30 years.  We’ve led more than 100 ocean projects covering 1.3 million square kilometers around the world, and we’ve generated more than $250 million in funding for marine conservation.  We’re excited about the opportunity to build on this experience and demonstrate to more countries that saving nature is the smartest investment they can make.”

TNC tested the Blue Bonds idea in Seychelles starting in 2012, and the country is now on track to expand marine protections to nearly 154,000 square miles (400,000 km2) of ocean habitat by 2020 – an area the size of Germany.

“The Nature Conservancy is a pioneer in nature conservation – using innovative finance to fuel scientifically-sound marine protection plans that bring coral back to life, improve fish stocks and protect people’s lives and livelihoods,” said Anna Verghese, Executive Director of The Audacious Project. “We were inspired by both the simplicity of the plan and the Conservancy’s incredible track record and look forward to seeing what the Conservancy will accomplish when it expands its reach with support leveraged through The Audacious Project.”

Expected impact

TNC now aims to deliver the Blue Bonds for Conservation model in 20 countries over the next five years.  With $40 million in upfront philanthropic funding – including funding through The Audacious Project, complemented by future philanthropic contributions – TNC’s goal is to expand its capacity to rapidly close deals that will unlock a sustainable revenue stream of $1.6 billion for ocean conservation.  TNC estimates there are near 100 countries where such projects could be developed.

“This is the philanthropic opportunity of a lifetime,” said Tercek. “Every dollar we raise will result in 40 times the impact. It’s hard to find better leverage than that.” 

With its plan to bring Blue Bonds to 20 countries, the organization expects to accomplish the following:

  • Protect 2 million square miles (4 million km2) of ocean
    • Commitments from countries to protect at least one-third of their marine resources
    • Half of these marine resources are set aside to increase climate change resilience for key marine species and habitats
  • Save 13 percent of the world’s coral reefs
    •  Customized marine protection plans ensure the most important coral reefs are protected and restored
    •  Healthy reefs provide habitat for fish, sea turtles, rays and other marine species and “seed” surrounding reefs by spreading coral larvae through ocean currents
  •  Benefit 43 million people living within 62 miles/100 km of a coastline
    • Healthy fisheries are protected, and degraded fisheries are returned to abundance, giving coastal people a secure source of food and income
    • Coral reefs, mangroves and wetlands store carbon, protect communities from storm surges and rising seas and bolster coastal economies

21st Century Conservation

Bringing an idea like Blue Bonds for Conservation to scale makes sense to conservationists, financiers, businesses, governments, and communities alike.  In essence, a country is able to restructure a portion of its debt, while also getting a lower interest rate and longer maturity.  This means they can put resources back into their local economies, which are usually based on fishing and/or tourism. 

“We know that Blue Bonds work—now it’s time to take them to scale,” said Tercek. “We are very pleased that Blue Bonds for Conservation has been named as an Audacious project, and we’re eager to get to work bringing this proven strategy to 20 countries resulting in a 15 percent increase in the amount of protected ocean that currently exists.”

“Blue Bonds for Ocean Conservation are one of the most exciting conservation strategies to have emerged in recent years, and I am proud to be partnering with The Nature Conservancy and the TED Audacious Project to expand this innovative initiative,” continued Wyss.  “Together, through a creative combination of science, finance, government leadership, advocacy, and philanthropy, we can protect far more of the remarkable biodiversity and productivity of the world’s oceans.”


TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading, often in the form of short talks delivered by leading thinkers and doers. Many of these talks are given at TED conferences, including our annual gathering in Vancouver, as well as TEDWomen, intimate TED Salons and thousands of independently organized TEDx events around the world. Videos of these talks are made available, free, on and other platforms. Audio versions of the talks from TED2019 will also be published to TED's podcast TED Talks Daily, available on Apple Podcasts and all other podcast platforms.

TED's open and free initiatives for spreading ideas include, where new TED Talk videos are posted daily; TEDx, which licenses thousands of individuals and groups to host local, self-organized TED-style events around the world; the TED Fellows program, which selects innovators from around the globe to amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities; the Audacious Project, which surfaces and funds critical ideas that have the potential to impact millions of lives; TEDSummit, which gathers the most engaged members of the global TED community for brainstorms, discussions, performances, workshops and an eclectic program of mainstage talks; and the educational initiative TED-Ed. TED also has a library of original podcasts, including The TED Interview with Chris Anderson, Sincerely, X, and one of Apple Podcasts’ most downloaded new shows of 2018, WorkLife with Adam Grant.

Follow TED on Twitter at, on Facebook at, on Instagram at and on Snapchat at tedtalkshq.



The Audacious Project was launched in April 2018, with a mission to foster "collaborative philanthropy for bold ideas." Housed at TED (the nonprofit devoted to ideas worth spreading) and operated with support from The Bridgespan Group (a leading social impact advisor to nonprofits and NGOs, philanthropists and investors), The Audacious Project brings together some of the most respected organizations and individuals in philanthropy — the Skoll Foundation, Virgin Unite, Dalio Foundation and more. The Audacious Project surfaces and funds critical projects with the potential to create global change. By removing barriers associated with funding, The Audacious Project empowers social entrepreneurs to dream boldly and take on the world’s biggest and most urgent challenges. The 2019 projects include: Center for Policing Equity, Educate Girls, Institute for Protein Design at the UW School of Medicine, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the END Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Thorn and Waterford UPSTART.

Learn more or support an existing project at

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.