Project AWARE Foundation

Rating: 4.85 stars   27 reviews

Issues: Environment, Philanthropy, Water

Location: 30151 Tomas St Rancho Santa Margarita CA 92688 USA

Mission: Project AWARE Foundation mobilizes the world’s divers into a global force to protect our ocean planet. We’re focusing in on two major ocean issues –Sharks in Peril and Marine Debris, or trash in our ocean. Truly, there are many conservation issues converging on our ocean planet at once, but we’re concentrating on these serious problems where scuba divers are uniquely positioned to directly and positively affect real, long-term change in these two areas. We’re ocean heroes numbering in the millions across the globe.
Results: From supporting grass roots Ocean Action Projects to stopping marine debris via your Dive Against Debris surveys and securing shark conservation measures globally, Project AWARE is at the forefront of marine protection. What’s more, Project AWARE supports divers with the tools and resources to join in campaigns and activities that contribute to advancing the health of the ocean for future generations. We’ve removed millions of cigarette butts from the ocean floor and way too many toilets to mention. We’ve rescued hundreds of entangled sea turtles, dolphins and sharks – one by one - setting them free from discarded fishing gear. We’ve pounded the pavement and flooded the halls of local governments, insisting on better protections for manta rays, hammerheads and sawfish. We’ve made history by helping create one of the world's largest marine reserve in Australia. On the front lines, partnering with ocean heroes in all corners of the globe, we work every day to make the ocean healthier, more alive.
Target demographics: protect the ocean and the communities who depend on it
Direct beneficiaries per year: remove over 95,000 lbs of devastating debris from underwater environments.
Geographic areas served: more than 180 countries
Programs: We’re focused on two major ocean issues –Sharks in Peril and Marine Debris, or trash in our ocean. Truly, there are many conservation issues converging on our ocean planet at once, but we’re concentrating on these serious problems where scuba divers are uniquely positioned to directly and positively affect real, long-term change in these two areas.
2014 Top-Rated Nonprofit
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More Info

EIN 33-0540475
949 858 7657
www.projectaware.org
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Community Reviews

Rating: 1 stars  

I am a PADI Professional dive instructor, rating IDC Staff Instructor, and have been a member of PADI for 13 years.
I always took it for granted that Project AWARE was a good and helpful organization...

Until I quit taking it for granted. After receiving several 'concerned' assessments from people I know in government positions, I undertook my own research. What I found was, for someone who had supported past fundraising efforts, humiliating.


*****Update as of Jan.27, 2015*****
I have received copies of PA's USA tax returns, and discovered that PA accounting lists all compensation for staff and paid board members as "program expenses" rather than as administrative costs. Form 990 shows actual direct giving for programs to be $9,500 for the last year available, 2012. The other $440,000 listed as program expenses was salaries, wages, and benefits for 2 paid board members and 6 paid staff. They did not say what the $9500 went to, because their giving fell just below the threshold for required itemizing of recipients. *******

Project AWARE does next to nothing except churn out materials that can be purchased by volunteers to get other volunteers to do work, and give PA credit for the event (such as debris clean-ups). They give a few grants, but they will not and do not keep any accurate expense reports, nor will they provide such information if requested (see BBB wise giving alliance report, which found the same lack of financial accounting as I did.) Dive instructors are provided with educational materials, and teach PA courses, but these are for-profit course offerings, and they are not expenditures, they raise funds. In fact, most of their events seem to earn more for the organization than the organization spends.

The organization mostly reports on ocean issues and reprints or paraphrases others' research and activity and then states support for these causes. They consider it an "action" to do this, because they are thereby "educating" people and making them "aware."
A quick look at their published, online 2014 "year in review infographic" seems to be very impressive. They obviously spend a lot of time and money on graphics used for touting their "accomplishments." But a closer look reveals the truth that they have really done nothing but put out information that is already available elsewhere, and get people to "like" them on facebook. If you think this is hyperbole, read their own "infographic" carefully and see the words they use:

They MOBILIZED people to write letters. How?
They MOBILIZED 4000 divers (volunteers) to pick up trash. They provided ??
They INFLUENCED the listing of sharks in the meetings of other groups. How?
They INFLUENCED EU litter policy. This one they said how: as one member of an international network of ngos. But what role did PA take?
They ACTIVATED 1900 divers to...take a pledge to protect the ocean.
They ACTIVATED 30,000 people to 'take action locally.' They did not elaborate.
They CERTIFIED 182 Instructors (who paid for the cert) to train debris removal volunteers.
They CERTIFIED 482 shark conservation instructors (who paid for the cert) who taught a total of 731 students (who pay for the course) how to be aware of the shark issues. That's 1.5 students per instructor. These certs all raised funds for PA, and solicit further donations in addition to course fees. Expenses, again, are not published or kept at all, apparently.

THAT'S IT!!! That is what they did last year, by their own accounting. How much did they spend on all of this? In the US, they spent around $450,000 on programs and collected in about $650,000. However, there is no accounting on how much of the expenses went towards salaries and expenses for travel, etc, for PA staff and administration. What we do know is that the CEO in the USA was paid nearly $100,000 last year. (see again BBB wise giving report.)

So Project AWARE basically mobilizes, activates, and influences others to do work, by creating web pages and literature which mostly claim credit for the work others do and by rewriting information already available elsewhere. In turn, dive centers get to promote themselves and their courses by displaying their affiliation with PA and often by receiving awards from PA for fund-raising efforts and for organizing trash pick-ups - These are activities which should be done by dive shops anyway, and would be done if PA did not exist.

But I left out the last accomplishment, which PA proudly touts In their "Infographic":
They INSPIRED 163,000 facebook fans and 24,000 twitter followers.
They INSPIRED 25 teams of volunteers to raise $52,000 for Project AWARE.
They INSPIRED 269 dive centers to...donate to Project AWARE, in exchange for "100% Aware" status and awards.


A quick look below at the very complimentary reviews of Project AWARE shows that 100% of these supporters are, in fact, PA affiliated dive shops and instructors who stand to profit from PA-related courses and who use their PA affiliation in their marketing. I do not believe that they are intentionally being biased and unaware of the reality. I believe they are decent people who just have no idea how PA is using them to legitimatize a very questionable organization. Anybody who seeks information on how PA is run and what oversight there is, especially in foreign countries, will find there is no such info on oversight and expenses.

This is all based on their own published information. What I have seen in fact in the field is horrifying. One example: On Koh Tao, in Thailand, Project AWARE is highly active in fund raising and course offerings, as well as several debris clean-ups every year. One shop, I will not name for fear of reprisal (this fear is very real on Koh Tao!), has walls full of PA awards for ocean awareness education. This same shop, and virtually all the shops on Koh Tao, meanwhile drain their waste water from laundry and showers directly into the ocean, and pile toxic construction/demolition debris in huge piles hidden on the hillside. There is no sanitation system for human waste that anybody could judge as sufficient, and much is drained into open cess pools and into the sea. The corals ringing Koh Tao have been damaged and are quite likely unsavable due to poisoning from pollution and monumental overuse by dive shops that routinely take literally 100s of divers a day - beginning divers, who are poorly trained in rushed 3-day courses - to small, fragile reefs. It is unbearable to see for anybody who is truly aware. Project AWARE seems to actually be contributing to this wholesale destruction of Koh Tao by helping to give an impression that the dive industry there is conserving, not destroying, the ocean environment.

Many will take offense at what I have written. Nothing I have said is not verifiable and mostly was taken straight from PA's own literature. As for Koh Tao, it must be seen to be believed. It is inconceivable until you have witnessed it firsthand.

BTW any attempt to report such abuses to PA or PADI is met with total and complete dismissal. Never mind that the "pledge" they 'inspire' people to take says, clearly, that any such polluting or damaging activities should be reported. That is, unless it is PA and PADI dive activities.

This organization is opaque, their accomplishments highly speculative and abstract, and their expense reporting is non-existent. I do not support them, and believe dive shops would be much better off severing affiliation and doing their own volunteer clean-up campaigns. dive shops who do actually care about the ocean and who maintain ethical and responsible practices should look at Koh Tao and other areas like it, and consider whether or not they want to be associated with that level of arrogance and duplicity on the part of PA and those local dive shops who are completely irresponsible.



If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Fire everyone involved, prosecute the board and executives for fraud, separate them from PADI, and start fresh.

How does this organization compare with others in the same sector?

Badly

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

None

Will you recommend this organization to others?

No

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2014

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Rating: 5 stars  

As a volunteer and donor - I have personally had the opportunity to help on several projects co-ordinated by Project Aware such as Underwater Clean-ups (Earth Day in particular), and through the dive centre Sunshine Divers on Koh Tao - Thailand. We conduct Monthly Clean Up dives and Beach Clean-ups where we then submit the the quantity and type of Marine Debri on the Project Aware - My Oceans Page - all data is kept to see how much debri has been removed from our Oceans. We have also created awareness through the Project Aware Specialty program "Shark Conservation Awareness" and through this have raised money by our Swim for Sharks" on Koh Tao which is then donated to Project Aware in our efforts to protect the Sharks and create further awareness.

Project Aware has been a huge support to Koh Tao where they helped fund the island organization Save Koh Tao, so that more garbage bins were located on the island to prevent waste going into the ocean.

Through the 100% AWARE donation by divers on completion of their PADI Certification, it has enabled us to teach divers more about protecting the reef through their interactions underwater - expressing how important it is to have good buoyancy techniques to avoid damaging the corals and aquatic marine life and also on what type of debri should be removed from the ocean during clean ups.

Project Aware has provided the foundation for both divers and non-divers to learn more on how to conserve our environment. A huge thank you to Project Aware for their dedication and complete support to both individuals and dive centers - worldwide.


Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

A lot

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Very Well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2014

Was this review helpful? 
Rating: 5 stars  

Project AWARE does a good job of raising awareness of the issue of ocean debris and the pressure on certain species, like sharks, involving divers and reaching out to the general public.
I have been carrying out underwater and beach cleanups and submitting my data to Project AWARE for the past 10 years, and have always received immediate feedback..

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Rating: 5 stars  

I have arranged several events with Project AWARE. Their support for all of the events I have arranged has been fantastic. They provide excellent resources to enable people to go ahead and arrange for fundraising, reef clean ups and educating people about conserving our oceans. I am also very impressed with their proactive approach to getting world policies and approaches to issues such as shark finning changed.

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Role: Professional with expertise in this field
Rating: 5 stars  

Great Work and support in Ocean Protection and Conservation. We will keep giving support for this great cause and project to keep our oceans healthy. Thank you project AWARE.

How does this organization compare with others in the same sector?

Very Well

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

Life-changing

Will you recommend this organization to others?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2014

Was this review helpful? 
Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

As PADI PRO and Project AWARE's volunteer/donor we join forces and work together throughout environmental awareness issues. Project AWARE is deeply commited to environment's protection and conservation as well as education.

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Role: Professional with expertise in this field
Rating: 5 stars  

My first experience with the Project AWARE Foundation happened in April 2001, when I took my first PADI scuba diving certification course in the Philippines. Learning to scuba dive opened up a whole new, beautiful world to me, one with which I immediately fell in love. My dive instructor told me about Project AWARE and I made a donation, not yet fully understanding the importance of what I had just done. Then I began to learn from Project AWARE about the ocean's plight and the impact we humans have on it. This was deeply influential, and it was arguably this experience which set me on a path to pursue a career in ocean conservation. Fast forward 13 years, and I now have a law degree focusing on international environmental and animal law and 7 years as an ocean conservationist under my belt. Knowing what I do now about the dire need for ocean conservation and having a deeper understanding of the different players involved in global efforts to protect it, I am more impressed by the important work done by Project AWARE than ever before. I still have my original PADI dive card with the Project AWARE logo in the lower right-hand corner--I keep it as a reminder that there is much work to be done for our ocean, and also that there are good people out there who are doing it. If you are looking to support an organization that will maximize the results achieved thanks to your dollar (and/or your time spent volunteering), I strongly recommend supporting Project AWARE.

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Role: Professional with expertise in this field
Rating: 5 stars  

Hi everyone
My name is Mahmoud Elaskary ,I PADI course Director I like share my experience with you I always love the sea like every one of you , but when you love someone you should give him more care ,it’s not only for you it for the next generations , about myself as diving educator I always teach the kids how to have positive interaction with the sea before and after dive and I got a lot of hands and tips for Project AWAER team I ask all of you to support to keep our ocean save as much as you can .

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Role: Professional with expertise in this field
Rating: 5 stars  

The ocean world simply cannot do without Project Aware. Through their education and awareness programmes they constantly remind us how important the oceans are not only for divers but for the entire human kind and they push us to make responsible decision every day. Through lobbying and clean-up sctivities they have have achieved some amazing results in the conservation of marine species and preservation of the oceans' health. As a professional diver and as a citizen of the world I can only say: thank you Project Aware!

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Rating: 5 stars  

Who can talk better about ocean life than whose life is dedicated to sharing their knowledge and working in a chain of awareness all over the world. The deep involvement of the project AWARE teams begins with those whose life is dedicated to diving and sharing their passion. The protection of sharks has started to reach consciences as essential for our future environment. The message is not pessimism but action and enthousiasm ... please do anything you can to support Project AWARE.

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