These married tech billionaires donated $165 million to preserve a pristine stretch of California's coastline

EsriJack and Laura Dangermond
  • Jack and Laura Dangermond, tech billionaires known as the parents of the digital mapping industry, have made the single largest private donation to The Nature Conservancy to date.
  • They have given $US165 million so the Conservancy can purchase an iconic, pristine stretch of undeveloped coastline in California.
  • This is the spot where California bends inland. It can be seen from space.
  • Not all tech billionaires have been known to act with such generosity when it comes to California’s ecological wonders.

Here’s a feel good story for your holiday season. In the single largest philanthropic gift The Nature Conservancy says it has ever received, tech moguls Jack and Laura Dangermond are donating $US165 million to the organisation.

The money is earmarked to purchase and permanently protect an iconic, pristine stretch of California’s coastline: the 24,000-acre Cojo/Jalama Ranch at Point Conception in Santa Barbara County. The land includes eight miles of coastline and centuries-old coastal oaks.

This land is the point where California’s coast bends inward, and is visible from space. It’s a rare mix of warm and cold water that is home to at least 39 species of threatened or special status, the Nature Conservancy says. Animal life includes whales, porpoises, mountain lions and Monarch butterflies. Some people go as far as to say that this spot is more beautiful than the national parks Yosemite or Yellowstone.

CaliforniaGoogle EarthPoint Conception in Santa Barbara

The married Dangermonds, known for their outdoorsy ways, fell in love with this land in the 1960’s during their honeymoon coastal camping trip, they told Forbes’ Miguel Helft.

The Dangermonds founded Esri, their best-known venture, in 1969 with $US1,100 of their personal savings. Esri basically invented digital mapping. While Google’s and Apple’s maps get all the attention in the consumer world, Esri is the biggest player in the commercial market for digital maps today. Forbes estimates that the pair is worth $US4 billion.

This particular piece of land caused some hand-wringing when it was sold for $US140 million to some real estate developers in 2007, who ultimately were never able to develop it.

The Dangermonds are major conservationists, who give their mapping software away for free to thousands of nongovernmental organisations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which uses it to fight the spread of disease in Africa, as well as to many wildlife and nature conservation groups. The National Audubon Society has previously awarded the couple the Audubon Medal, one of the highest honours in conservation.

Santa Barbara coastlineThe Nature ConservancyPoint Conception in Santa Barbara County

This act by the Dangermonds acts as a counterpoint the image of how tech tycoons can sometimes behave towards California’s ecological wonders. For instance, the billionaire cofounder of Sun Microsystems and VC Vinod Khosla blocked public access to a public beach after he purchased the 89-acre property surrounding the beach in 2009.

He was sued by an environmental group and after years of court battles, was ordered to open access again earlier this year.

And Facebook billionaire Sean Parker was fined $US2.5 million back in 2013 when he and his bride damaged an an ecologically sensitive area in Big Sur, another Californian coastal region, for their wedding.

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