Our Conservation Program works to resolve environmental threats in ways that ensure the well-being of local communities while sustaining natural resources and protecting biodiversity. We do so by collaborating with outstanding global and local organizations that share our mission. The Trust’s place-based approach aims to align biodiversity conservation and environmental protection goals with sustainable human development. This includes promoting development solutions that benefit communities, wildlife and the environment; establishing and supporting the management of protected areas; and working to save endangered species. Wherever possible, the Trust leverages investment and leadership of those in the public and private sectors, and seeks long-term financing mechanisms to ensure the sustainability of efforts and impacts.
We currently focus on the Galápagos Archipelago in Ecuador, Baja California Sur in Mexico, Madagascar and Myanmar. Each is remarkable for its biodiversity and each is threatened by a variety of environmental, social, political and developmental conditions. In developing and refining tailored grantmaking strategies for these four regions, we consider sustainable natural resource management, terrestrial and marine ecosystem viability, species conservation needs and opportunities, health and disease dynamics, environmental and climate change forecasts, economic and political forces, the capacity and leadership of local conservation practitioners, the presence of potential partner organizations and other funding sources. In addition to focusing on these four specific regions, we are committed to global marine conservation and connecting our place-based programs to broader regional and global priorities. Details of our work in each of these target areas is as follows:
Located 600 miles west of the Ecuadorian mainland, the Galápagos’ iconic wildlife – much of it found nowhere else on Earth – has helped define our understanding of science. A natural laboratory for the study of evolution and a globally prized ecological treasure, the Galápagos’ sensitive habitats, animals, and plants face increasing threats driven by the rapidly growing residential and touristic human footprint. The Trust’s Galápagos strategy includes (but is not limited to):
- Technical assistance for the national park service to improve the management of the Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve;
- Support for environmentally responsible tourism management policies, and help for businesses transitioning to eco-friendly tourism models;
- Assistance to municipalities in the design and implementation of land use and waste management policies that minimize pressure on the environment;
- Work to consolidate and fortify barriers against the introduction and spread of harmful invasive species that compete with native plants and animals;
- Support for sound zoning, regulation, and law enforcement within the Galápagos Marine Reserve to effectively manage fisheries, expand no-take zones, and protect threatened species from harmful fishing practices;
- Capacity-building, outreach, education, and communications to promote civic engagement and environmental responsibility among residents; and
- Scientific research that informs natural resource management and the effective communication of relevant data to local communities and decision makers.
Baja California Sur and Gulf of California, Mexico
The unique interaction between ocean currents and the desert environment make the coastline of Baja California Sur and the Gulf of California some of the most productive waters in the world. In order to protect the unique biodiversity and productivity of the region, Mexico has created marine and terrestrial protected areas which attempt to conserve critical habitats and key species while helping to protect the ecosystem services that benefit the public good. However, there are critical gaps in protected area coverage, and the lack of government resources leaves existing areas vulnerable to threats of overfishing, inappropriate tourism projects and industrial development. The Trust focuses on strengthening the protected area network by promoting new and expanded protected areas, fostering community participation in management, and developing a community of high-capacity conservation leaders. We prioritize local interventions in Cabo Pulmo, Marismas Nacionales and the Loreto-La Paz Bay Corridor. Our strategy in this region includes:
- Capacity-building support through trainings and technical assistance that build skills, increase participation, create cross-sector relationships and promote natural resources stewardship within civil society and government;
- Strategic scientific research to properly manage protected areas and fisheries while promoting science-based decision-making;
- Public education, outreach and strategic communications to communities and decision-makers on conservation, management and processes related to protected areas;
- Legal tools and mechanisms to prevent large-scale unsustainable development and place private lands under conservation measures; and
- Sustainable alternative livelihoods that incentivize communities to act as natural resource stewards.
Commonly known as the eighth continent due to its unparalleled levels of biodiversity and endemism, Madagascar’s environment is under accelerating threat due to widespread poverty, a rapidly growing population, unsustainable use of natural resources and weak governance. In this context, successful conservation efforts must engage local communities in natural resources management, and diversifying economic livelihoods to reduce pressure on natural resources while also supporting human well-being. Our Madagascar strategy includes:
- Support for the creation of permanent protected areas in important land and seascapes;
- Design and implementation of community-led natural resources management plans within and surrounding protected areas;
- The expansion of productive, environmentally sound livelihoods such as ecotourism, sustainable agriculture, and sound fisheries management;
- Capacity-building support for communities and civil society organizations to improve governance and advocacy for sound environmental policy;
- Technical assistance and research support for local, regional, and national authorities in the monitoring and management of natural resources; and
- Outreach, education, and communications to promote environmental consciousness and sustainable behaviors.
Myanmar is home to some of the planet’s most primal, unspoiled wilderness areas inhabited by rare and newly discovered wildlife. After decades of isolation, the county recently has reengaged the outside world. It is now poised for rapid development as foreign investments pour in and laws and regulations change to accommodate a new path to modernity. The Helmsley Charitable Trust is partnering closely with several of the leading global conservation organizations, as well as with a growing group of local environmental, educational and social programs, to help ensure that these changes are done sustainably, protecting Myanmar’s vast and unique natural assets, while enabling the nation and its people to prosper in the 21st Century and beyond. Myanmar is the Trust’s newest geographic focus area. Our grantmaking strategy there includes:
- Creation of new protected areas in terrestrial and marine biodiversity hotspots and strengthening management plans in existing protected areas;
- Capacity building for local conservation practitioners including government officials, the nascent sector of local environmental non-profits, and a growing civil society;
- Technical assistance for government officials in support of new regulations that will guide sound land use and natural resources management;
- Communications and public outreach to foster a conservation ethic and engage local communities in conservation efforts; and
- Growth of the pool of future conservation professionals through small research grants and capacity support in the academic sector.
Global Marine Conservation
Oceans cover 71 percent of the planet’s surface, contain 97 percent of the planet’s water, supply half of the oxygen and provide incalculable worth to the ecology of the planet. While our program is primarily grounded in a place-based approach, we believe the welfare of people, wild species and threats to biodiversity are not limited by geopolitical boundaries. In the marine space, the range of animals and plants can extend over tremendous distances, far beyond the borders of individual countries. Therefore, it is critically important to protect key sites throughout the vast corridors of the ocean. To be effective in our geographies and improve biodiversity around the world, our global marine conservation efforts focus on:
- Innovative approaches to sustainable fisheries in order to reduce unregulated fishing and its harmful impact on ocean ecology;
- Supporting more effective regulations and enforcement to mitigate the effects of threats to our oceans and to the people that depend on the ocean’s resources; and
- Establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and ensuring long-term success of MPAs to protect important and threatened species that are key to maintaining marine biodiversity both within and migrating between MPAs.