A Paradigm Shift

Conservation International 2023 Annual Report


This is the moment for all of us to come together — scientists and economists, field conservationists and communicators, civil society, businesses and governments. We must be curious enough to challenge conventional wisdom and courageous enough to fail. We must be committed to delivering change at the scale that the twin threats of ecological destruction and climate change demand.

Peter Seligmann — Chairman of the Board


We have an unprecedented opportunity to transform the field of conservation, an opportunity that we can only seize with your wisdom, generosity and support. I hope you’ll join us on this grand adventure to secure our planet’s atmosphere and diversity of life — without doubt the rarest, most valuable assets in the known universe.

M Sanjayan — Chief Executive Officer



Highlights from 2023

(Download PDF at bottom of page for more stories from the field)


Nature for Climate


Peru swaps debt for nature

It’s unlikely that anyone in 1987 knew that the world’s first “debt-for-nature” swap would have such a lasting legacy.

© Daniel Rosengren

Nearly four decades ago, Conservation International brokered an agreement to write off a chunk of Bolivia’s debt in return for protecting 1.6 million hectares (4 million acres) of tropical forest. In 2023, Conservation International returned to its roots, helping secure a deal with Peru to redirect more than US$ 20 million it owes to the United States into the conservation of some of the most biodiverse areas on Earth.

Funds from the swap will protect three priority areas in the Peruvian Amazon, covering roughly 10 percent of the country, as well as working alongside Indigenous peoples and local communities improving livelihoods in the region. Conservation International and partner organizations provided a total of US$ 3 million to support the deal.

“There’s a growing recognition that many countries that would like to support conservation can’t because of financial constraints, including burdensome debt,” said Andrew Schatz, a senior legal advisor at Conservation International who worked on the Peru deal. “Debt-for-nature swaps give them that chance.”


In Brazilian Amazon, a reforestation effort grows

Announced to much fanfare in 2017, it was an audacious plan: Restore 73 million trees across the Brazilian Amazon. By restoring these carbon-absorbing forests, the initiative aimed to help the South American country achieve its climate commitments and its reforestation targets. Then reality happened.

© Conservation International/photo by Inaê Brandão

Wildfires, political upheaval and a global pandemic delivered major setbacks to the initiative, which had delivered only about 20 percent of its target as of 2023.

But despite the delay, an amazing result emerged.

Rather than 3 million trees growing in 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres), as we would have expected, we’re estimating 9.6 million trees in the same area.

One of the initiative’s most noteworthy features was the use of a seed-planting method called “muvuca.” Unlike typical reforestation efforts, in which tree saplings are planted one at a time, muvuca relies on spreading a large and varied mixture of native seeds to assure a higher diversity of trees.

The technique’s results have exceeded expectations. “We’re seeing a tree yield that is three times higher than our initial estimates,” said Miguel Moraes of Conservation International’s Brazil office. “Rather than 3 million trees growing in 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres), as we would have expected, we’re estimating 9.6 million trees in the same area,” he added. “This is a very good result, and it offers hope of overcoming the challenge of reducing restoration costs to enable restoration at a large scale.”


Ocean Conservation at Scale


A small island makes a big impact for conservation

In 2022, the tiny Pacific Island nation of Niue announced its intention to protect 100 percent of its waters, an area roughly the size of Vietnam. The big question: How would they fund this vision?

Niue reef | Richard Sidey/Galaxiid
© Richard Sidey/Galaxiid

In 2023, government and community leaders developed a new financial mechanism that enables contributors to sponsor a square kilometer (about 250 acres) of its ocean waters — for the equivalent of about US$ 150.

“The same way people would sponsor an elephant, a turtle or a whale, now you can sponsor a piece of ocean,” says Maël Imirizaldu, regional lead for the Blue Nature Alliance, a global coalition co-founded by Conservation International. Imirizaldu, who worked with Niue’s government for years to develop the financing strategy, says the plan was a pragmatic response from local leaders who were stretched thin, trying to wrangle philanthropic funding needed to support long-term marine protections.

Each square kilometer sponsorship, called an Ocean Conservation Commitment (OCC), will provide much-needed consistent, durable financing for the protection of Niue’s marine territory — which is fully 1,200 times larger than its land mass. Several organizations, including Conservation International and the Blue Nature Alliance, have already committed to sponsor more than 15,000 square kilometers (nearly 6,000 square miles) of ocean.

With a capitalization target of US$ 18 million, OCC sponsorship will directly support Niue’s conservation efforts for 20 years. Funds will be managed through a public-private partnership between the government and Tofia Niue, a local nonprofit.

In the wake of the world’s commitment to protect 30 percent of land and sea by 2030 — a goal known as “30 by 30” — Niue’s plan could help usher in a new era of large-scale ocean protection.


In Indonesia, a global first for endangered sharks

For decades, captive breeding programs have boosted populations of orangutans, condors and other endangered wildlife. But the approach had never been tried with marine species.

Until now.

© Conservation International/photo by Mark Erdmann

Last year, three zebra shark pups from a Sydney aquarium were the first endangered sharks ever to be bred in captivity and released into the wild — in this case, the protected waters of Indonesia’s Raja Ampat islands.

The pups are pioneers in a global effort known as ReShark, a partnership of nearly 80 aquariums, universities and environmental organizations, including Conservation International and our local partner Konservasi Indonesia.

Once common in Raja Ampat, zebra sharks nearly vanished thanks to overfishing — yet their populations were thriving in public aquariums. Conservation International marine expert Mark Erdmann had an idea: If these sharks were released back into the wild to places where they wouldn’t be caught, they just might be able to avoid extinction.

So far, the effort is working, and over the next decade, ReShark plans to release some 500 zebra shark pups into Raja Ampat’s waters. The team has begun to explore new locations and is building hatcheries that should work for other shark species, and even rays.

"Sharks are some of the most misunderstood, and threatened, species on the planet,” Erdmann says. “We have an opportunity to give them a fighting chance."


Nature Positive Economies


Small changes, huge benefits for forests and farmers

In Madagascar, many farmers are caught in a dangerous cycle. With climate change threatening crops and livelihoods, farms expand by cutting down trees — making droughts, floods and erosion worse.

© Jonathan Irish

Five years ago, Conservation International and the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund partnered to break the cycle by helping farmers shift to more sustainable practices: using drought-resistant seeds; planting “cover crops” to prevent soil erosion; and planting native fruit trees that provide shade — and income.

Those efforts paid off. For a report on the project to be published this year, researchers surveyed 1,600 participating farmers, asking questions about the quantity and types of food they consume and their ability to pay for essential needs. The farmers said they produce more crops and have greater food security — a relief for communities that historically struggle to produce enough food to eat. Meanwhile, deforestation in the project areas has slowed.

The findings are promising for Madagascar — and beyond, said Zo Lalaina Rakotobe, of Conservation International-Madagascar.

“Smallholder farmers are one of the populations most at risk from climate change,” Rakotobe said. “This project is building trust in sustainable agriculture’s power to prepare them for the effects of a warming planet.”

As climate change threatens farmers around the world, this report provides the most comprehensive look yet at how they can become more resilient — and its findings could inform how countries around the world adapt to new weather patterns. For policymakers, this is food for thought.


Sustainable sourcing is increasingly in fashion

For fashion industry, being sustainable has not been easy.

© CI Peru/Marlon del Aguila Guerrero

The sourcing and production of raw materials for the fashion industry can contribute significantly to biodiversity loss and soil degradation. Materials such as leather, rubber, cotton, and viscose (commonly known as rayon) drive deforestation and land degradation.

To help guide the industry toward a more sustainable future, Conservation International has partnered with the Global Environment Facility and The Fashion Pact, a global coalition of more than 60 fashion and textile companies, including Burberry, Chanel and Ralph Lauren, committed to cutting carbon emissions, restoring biodiversity in their supply chains and protecting the world’s oceans.

Since our work began in 2020, the number of Fashion Pact companies with a biodiversity strategy has been growing significantly each year: 52 percent of members now say they have a formal biodiversity strategy in place. This grew from 21 percent in 2022, and 10 percent in 2021. And at the 2023 Global Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, Conservation International and The Fashion Pact released the partnership’s flagship publication: a guide for fashion, textile and apparel businesses on how to set science-based targets for nature and take actions to protect and restore lands and waters. Together, we are developing a deforestation-free roadmap for fashion’s raw materials — and continuing to pave a path to a nature-positive fashion sector.


Innovations in Science and Finance


Under land and under sea, climate solutions bloom

Research by Conservation International scientists in the past year shed new light on some unheralded life forms.

Consider the humble seaweed. New research shows that seaweed forests — such as massive, fast-growing underwater towers of kelp — may play a bigger role in fighting climate change than previously thought.

How big? The study, by researchers at Conservation International and the University of Western Australia, found that some seaweeds absorb as much climate-warming carbon as the Amazon rainforest.

“For years, we’ve suspected that seaweed is an underappreciated ally in the fight against climate change,” says the study’s lead author, Albert Pessarrodona, a post-doctoral researcher at Conservation International. “We found that the conservation and restoration of those forests around the world could help keep roughly 36 million metric tons of carbon out of the atmosphere,” he says — about as much climate-warming carbon as is stored in 1 billion trees.

Meanwhile, back on land, scientists dug up new findings about fungus.

Beneath the ground, intricate fungal networks work together with plants to absorb massive amounts of carbon, a study found — equivalent to more than a third of the world’s annual fossil fuel emissions.

The research, led by Heidi Hawkins of Conservation South Africa, an affiliate of Conservation International, could spur conservation efforts to pay closer attention to what’s happening underground.

“In conservation, fungi have, understandably, received a fraction of the attention of forest restoration,” Hawkins says. “But these fungi could be part of the crucial fight to curb climate change.”

Though further research is needed to better understand the carbon-storing powers of nature, these findings point to a new way for policymakers to protect ecosystems and the climate at the same time.


In TED Talk, doctor prescribes conservation

“I am a medical oddity — I’m a doctor who specializes in saving forests.” So begins a TED Talk given last year by Dr. Neil Vora, an epidemiologist at Conservation International.


While it may seem improbable for a medical doctor to work for a conservation nonprofit, Vora’s work centers on a powerful but unheralded premise: that human health and the protection of nature are inextricably linked.

“Some researchers believe the West African Ebola epidemic began with an ax,” Vora says in his talk, released last year. “Communities in rural Guinea, for their survival, had no choice but to clear forests for farms. People and wildlife began to commingle. Then, in 2013, a 2-year-old boy died of Ebola.”

Since the 1940s, the number of new infectious diseases, including Ebola, has increased; most of them have originated from animals. These numbers are expected to rise even further if humanity continues to degrade nature. Since joining Conservation International as a Pandemic Prevention Fellow in 2021, Vora has put this issue squarely on policymakers’ radars.

“There is no human health, or animal health, or environmental health; they are one and the same,” Vora’s talk concludes.

One more powerful reason to protect nature.


CI Ventures: Investing in business — and nature

Year after year, Conservation International finds new ways to demonstrate that protecting natureis good for the bottom line.

© Sway

Our investment fund, CI Ventures, invests in nature-positive businesses that create jobs and protect and restore forests, rangelands and oceans, seeking first to maximize the social or economic benefits of the investment before any potential financial gains. To date, this groundbreaking fund has invested US$ 13.5 million in 36 businesses to leverage an additional US$ 86 million in financing from partners and follow-on investments — meaning every dollar invested by Conservation International has unlocked seven more dollars.

In the past year, the fund invested in nature-positive enterprises operating across Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas in sectors ranging from seaweed farming to food waste management.

In Mexico, for example, CI Ventures invested in the growth of two community-led coffee cooperatives that operate near protected forest areas and use sustainable farming practices. As climate change increasingly alters where coffee can grow, and with demand for the popular beverage growing, investing in small producers now will help them adapt and continue to use the land already set aside for coffee cultivation — keeping nearby healthy forests intact while also improving local livelihoods.

Another highlight: A CI Ventures investee called Sway, which pioneered the development of a seaweed-based plastic packaging alternative, won last year’s Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize. Sway’s US$ 600,000 in winnings — the largest award among the three prizewinners — will help the company scale up its business.


The sort of disruptive thinking in this report is exactly what this extraordinary moment demands. It’s how we will permanently change behavior and provide lasting benefits to communities around the world.

M Sanjayan — Chief Executive Officer


Read what's next in 2024

(PDF, 16MB)



In the fiscal year 2023, Conservation International raised a total of US$ 246.7 million in revenue from deeply committed supporters from around the globe.

Foundations $87.0M
Public Funding $57.6M
Corporations $37.9M
Individuals $22.5M
Investment + Other Income $41.7M


Conservation International closed fiscal year 2023 with expenses totaling US$ 247.4 million.

Field Programs
Americas $59.4M
Asia-Pacific $30.5M
Africa $21.6M
Center for Oceans $20.9M
Global Programs $38.3
Grantmaking Divisions $36.3M
Fundraising $20.2M
Management + Operations $14.0M
Other Programs $6.2M

Behind the Artwork

More about the digital collages featured in this year’s annual report




Nature for Climate


Ocean Conservation at Scale


Nature-Positive Economies


Innovations in Science and Finance


What's Next


Our Financials


Our Supporters



Previous Annual Reports

Also read our:  2023 Impact Report


2022 Annual Report

"Though it has been a volatile year for the world, this much is clear to me: There is tremendous momentum and unity around healing our planet. Our cause has become the world’s — and the only limits on what we can achieve will be self-imposed. If we can lead with courage and curiosity, then progress will surely follow — gradually, and then suddenly."


2021 Annual Report

At Conservation International, we are proud to have some of the leading minds in natural and social science, policy, finance and business working together to improve people’s lives through the care and protection of nature. Their insights are helping societies develop and thrive in a more sustainable, equitable way.


2020 Annual Report

A global pandemic slowed the pace of life. It did not, however, slow climate breakdown. With only a decade left to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, stalled action in 2020 provided a setback just when progress was needed most.

Yet Conservation International forged ahead. Read the highlights.


2019 Annual Report

We are in the midst of a crisis that is the greatest humanity has ever faced. The Amazon is burning. The Arctic is melting. And in a time when our assault on nature has given rise to deadly zoonotic diseases, one has become a catastrophic pandemic.

But the young are raising their voices full of determination, resolve and rage. Listen to them: if we do not take care of our planet, nothing else will really matter.



Audited financial statements and Form 990s from the past five years