Dan Laffoley

Dan is a well-respected leading global expert on ocean conservation. He is currently Emeritus Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). He is a member of WCPA Chair’s Advisory Group, and Chairs the Hope Spot Council and is an Emeritus Board Member of Mission Blue. He is also a founding Non-Executive Board Member of the Office for Environmental Protection, established in the wake of Brexit Under the Environment Act. This new body was established in 2022 to hold UK public bodies to account on their environmental records, and to advise on the implementation of UK environmental law.

In March 2021 Dan was awarded the Fred Packard Award by IUCN and WCPA in recognition of having dedicated his life and career to conservation, and especially as an outstanding and inspiring figure in global marine protected areas, and a major contributor over many years to the work of IUCN and WCPA on marine conservation.

Prior to these appointments and up until 2022 Dan was Principal Advisor, Marine Science and Conservation for IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, and held the global honorary role as Marine Vice Chair for the World Commission on Protected Areas for 17 years, providing a world-wide lead on ocean protection.

During his time as marine Vice Chair at IUCN Dan instigated and led many initiatives that continue to have a lasting impact on global ocean protection and stimulated action by countries throughout the world:

  • Leading the development of the ‘20 – 30 %’ MPA target in the Durban Accord, the influential outcome of the fifth IUCN World Parks Congress 2003 that started the scale-up in ocean protection. The Congress represented at that time the largest and most diverse gathering of protected area experts in history.
  • Chairing the process that led to the formulation of the ‘at least 30%’ MPA target at the sixth IUCN World Congress on Protected Areas, which was convened in Sydney, Australia, from 12-19 November 2014. The ‘at least 30%’ target has now been taken up by terrestrial and freshwater and is now the central focus of the debate on the nature of the post 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity targets to be agreed in 2022.
  • Leading the development in multiple languages of IUCN guidance on MPAs, from the development of the single IUCN protected area definition for land, freshwater and marine, to specific supplementary marine guidance for applying protected area management categories, through to the development of the MPA Standards which arose from IUCN Members requests at the 4th International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC), held in Chile in 2017.
  • Chairing the International Committee for the IMPAC series and the selection processes for host countries for IMPAC2 – IMPAC5 and advising on the implementation of each IMPAC.
  • Helping shape the debate and chairing the meeting in Washington DC that led to the establishment of the High Seas Alliance – with its 40+ non-governmental members – to challenge and press the United Nations to develop, agree and implement a binding treaty to protect nature in the High Seas under the Law of the Sea.
  • Researching and leading the development of the concept of Marine and Coastal Carbon Sinks – later named Blue Carbon – that resulted in the massive global scale up of action for coastal and marine carbon rich ecosystems seen today, and the current endeavours to include some ecosystems as actionable under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This work was also influential in creating ‘natural solutions’ for IUCN, which are now known as nature-based solutions.
  • Leading the development of the concept of ‘ocean risk’ with XL Catlin (now AXA XL) that resulted in an agreed definition of this type of risk for the global insurance industry. This work drove the creation of the Coastal Risk Index and the establishment of the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA), a multi-sector collaboration aimed at driving $500 million of investment into nature-based solutions by 2030 through the development of innovative finance and insurance products.
  • Leading the development of and chairing the Ocean Acidification Reference User Group (RUG), the world’s longest running body (2004 – 2020) that was instrumental in bringing scientists, policy advisors, and end users together to help communicate the risks arising from knowledge on ocean acidification (OA), and which was instrumental in the early days in alerting the world to this new ocean risk. Helping lead, in the latter years of the RUG, the creation of the world’s first regional action plans on OAs with authorities, experts and organisations for Latin America and the Caribbean, and for the western Indian Ocean.
  • Working with leading scientists throughout the world to scale up attention on issues such as ocean warming and ocean deoxygenation, creating some of the most downloaded technical products in the recent history of IUCN, and ensuring these new types of ocean risks became recognised as significant climate change issues.
  • Inspiring Terradepth to be created to support a global effort through innovating technology and hardware to map the world’s ocean, thus building on the virtual world Dan helped create with Google in 2009

Dan also continues to publish widely, and his work includes some of the most downloaded publications for the Journal of Aquatic Conservation in recent years. During his time at IUCN he also quietly championed women and young professionals’, helping ensuring that they have more visibility and influence than ever before within the global organisation.

He has a broad knowledge of marine science matters across multiple disciplines and a track record of working with industry, especially with the energy sector. During his career he has had a places on the Boards and Councils of many UK leading marine science organisations. Between 2009 and 2014 Dan was an independent advisors to the UK’s top-level Marine Science Coordination Committee, where he led on improving communication of marine sciences and how UK marine science is showcased on the international stage. Between 2020 and 2022 he successfully spearheaded the development of Marine Research Plymouth which is a cooperative venture between Plymouth Marine Laboratory, The University of Plymouth, and the Marine Biological Association, that helps them draw on the skills and expertise of the largest aggregation of marine scientists in the UK.

He has a keen interest in how information technology can help protect the ocean and helped deliver Google Ocean, showing the public for the first time how the ocean is protected, benefitting within a couple of years in excess of 1 billion people a with a new perspective on the seas. He spearheaded the development of Smartphone Apps for MPAs including the 2012 launch of the first Marine World Heritage App with UNESCO, and the 2013 launch of the Sargasso Sea App. In 2013 Dan was appointed to the Council of Advisors to the Ocean Elders who include Her Majesty Queen Noor, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, Sir Richard Branson, Ted Turner, Sylvia Earle, James Cameron and other ocean world leaders. He is also credited with formative discussions which have led to partnerships by IUCN with Google, Americas Cup, and Underwater Earth.

In 2014 Dan was appointed to the Scientific Board of the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health X PRIZE – a $2 Million competition to inspire innovation of accurate, durable, and affordable pH sensors that will profoundly improve our understanding of ocean acidification. In 2014 Dan was also appointed to the Board of Directors of the Sargasso Sea Project, Inc. In 2015 Dan was elected an Fellow International of The Explorer’s Club – the world renown USA-based organisation which over the past 111 years has been dedicated to the advancement of field research, scientific exploration, resource conservation, and the idea that it is vital to preserve the instinct to explore.

For over 35 years Dan has been responsible for the creation of many key national, European and global partnerships and alliances that underpin modern-day marine conservation. He served as chief scientific advisor for the marine environment in Natural England, for over a decade headed-up the marine conservation programme for English Nature and has also worked in a variety of other roles including special marine environmental advisor for the Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Strategy Unit, and for the European Commission.

He is an Honorary Visiting Professor of the Marine Institute at the University of Plymouth, UK (2007 – present), and has a BSc Hons (1st) Ecology (Biological Sciences) (Exeter) and a PhD Marine Ecology (Exeter). He is a Fellow of the Society of Biology, a Chartered Biologist, a Fellow of the Linnaean Society, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and a Winston Churchill Fellow. He travels extensively, has published widely and undertakes frequent talks, seminars and interviews with the press.