Ocean Challenge logo


Ocean Challenge Overview (406 KB pdf)


April 1 – Challenge website open for concept submission

July 31 – Submission Deadline

August 1 – Concepts available online for public comment

August 31 – Public comment period closes

Week of September 16 – Finalists selected and notified

Week of September 16 – Finalists posted online

February 2014 – Award winner presents concept at Ocean Sciences Meeting, Honolulu, HI


For more information email info@tos.org, or call Jenny at 301.251.7708


Over the last 150 years, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from 290 ppm to 395 ppm, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels. The ocean, as a primary carbon sink, is absorbing increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2, lowering surface water pH. Ocean acidification, together with changes in ocean temperature, salinity, and stratification, is impacting the global ocean ecosystem and potentially threatening marine food supplies.


The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, as part of a larger ocean health initiative, and in collaboration with The Oceanography Society, awarded $10,000 to the most promising new science-based concept for mitigating environmental and/or societal impacts of ocean acidification.


Dr. Ruth D. Gates
Dr. Ruth D. Gates
The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation awarded the $10,000 top prize of the Paul G. Allen Ocean Challenge to Dr. Ruth D. Gates from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Dr. Madeleine van Oppen from the Australian Institute of Marine Science for their idea to increase the resilience of critical and highly vulnerable coral reef ecosystems. Dr. Gates and Dr. van Oppen, named as the winners of the Ocean Challenge in fall 2013, will be invited to submit a full grant proposal to the Foundation for consideration for research project funding.

We asked Dr. Gates and Dr. van Oppen to share more about their winning concept:

Dr. Madeleine van Oppen
Dr. Madeleine van Oppen
Q. Where did your idea come from?
A. The rate at which coral reefs world-wide are declining has raised concern about the natural capacity of corals to adapt at a pace fast enough to keep up with human induced climate change. Similar to the genetic selection of animals and plants, coral reef organisms could be genetically selected to boost their resilience to environmental stress, but this has not yet been attempted. Our research focuses on understanding how can we harness naturally occurring mechanisms of adaptation and acclimatisation to extend the functional range and resilience of corals to the more acidic and warmer conditions predicted for the oceans of the future.

Ofu Lagoon
Ofu Lagoon
Q. What was the inspiration for your proposal?
A. Coral reefs are beautiful and complex ecosystems that play central roles in coastal security, tourism, and fisheries. As a result of human activities, reef integrity is declining rapidly, which will profoundly compromise the human services reefs provide. These dire outcomes have inspired us to act, to change the way we do business, and to focus our scientific activities on products with applied value in mitigating impacts of environmental disturbance on reefs.

Q. What is your background?
A. We both originally trained in marine ecology and then re-trained in molecular biology and genetics in the 1990's. This was a time when technological advances were making DNA based investigations broadly tractable. These approaches revolutionized what we now know about biodiversity and biological function. We lead active research labs in Hawaii and Australia focusing on coral reefs and we are passionate about translating science into actions that can improve the performance of coral reefs in an uncertain future.

Q. What do you see as the most important issue facing ocean health today?
A. All reefs are being influenced by global factors of climate change that manifests in shifts in ocean chemistry, thermal disturbances, increasing frequency of storms, and of biological threats such as disease and predator outbreaks. In many areas these threats combine with the more direct and visible impacts of coastal development (e.g., sedimentation, eutrophication, uncontrolled storm water runoff, pollution, and overfishing). Ultimately the most important issues facing ocean health today are human induced climate change driven by over population and over exploitation of precious coastal resources.