In oceans we trust: Conservation, philanthropy, and the political economy of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area

Marc–Andrej Felix Mallin, Dennis C. Stolz, Benjamin S. Thompson, Mads Barbesgaard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


US-based philanthropies have long contributed to environmental conservation through non-repayable donations, but some are now beginning to embrace novel investment strategies that are profit-orientated. From the vantage points of political economy and geopolitics, this article investigates the potential ramifications of this shift in funding for large-scale marine protected areas (LMPAs), which have been widely promoted to enhance marine biodiversity and manage sustainable fisheries. Specific attention is given to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) in Kiribati, where finance from US-based philanthropic foundations is intended to support the operation and management of the LMPA and eventually compensate the government for forgone revenues from fishing licences, via the creation of a trust fund. Content analysis of key documents is conducted to empirically trace the political, legal, and financial evolution of PIPA. The findings demonstrate how, in accepting finance from philanthropic foundations, the government of Kiribati gradually relinquishes its decision-making leverage over PIPA's territory and resources. Hence, it is contended that certain legal and financial provisions could act as under-acknowledged and purposive drivers of ‘ocean-control grabbing’. Results further reveal that achieving financial sustainability for the PIPA conservation trust fund has proven difficult, opening up discussions on the extent to which PIPA could be capitalised in other ways. More broadly, the paper engages with recent debates on for-profit conservation, ocean grabbing, and the blue economy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103421
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Blue economy
  • Environmental governance
  • For-profit conservation
  • Impact investing
  • Ocean grabbing
  • SIDS

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