Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest reinvention? £30m to save the Galapagos Islands

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Saving the world: actor Leonardo DiCaprio is to help rewild an island in the Galapagos  (Leonardo DiCaprio is to help rewild the Galapagos.)
Saving the world: actor Leonardo DiCaprio is to help rewild an island in the Galapagos (Leonardo DiCaprio is to help rewild the Galapagos.)

You’re used to seeing him puffing on a cig while chilling out on a super-yacht or wandering the sunny streets of New York in search of iced coffee, draped around girlfriend Camila Morrone. But over the last two decades, Leonardo DiCaprio has not so quietly dedicated himself to saving the planet and today he made an appearance at the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow.

DiCaprio has worked on a number of documentaries about animal poaching and the environment, and was appointed a United Nations representative on climate change in 2014. Last June, in one of his biggest eco-warrior moves yet, the Academy Award winner pledged $43 million (£30 million) towards rewilding the Galápagos Islands, renowned for their diverse ecosystems and where Charles Darwin’s observations later underpinned his theory of natural selection. Birds and reptiles like the pink iguana, giant tortoise and the Floreana mockingbird, are endangered on the volcanic islands off Ecuador due to tourism, industrial fishing and the introduction of invasive species.

He announced the initiative in partnership with Re:wild, an organisation founded by a group of conservationists, via a post on his social media accounts, which have more than 80 million combined followers and are exclusively dedicated to his eco-activism. “The wild is in decline. We have degraded three-quarters of all wild places and pushed more than one million species to the brink of extinction,” he wrote. “More than half of Earth’s remaining wild areas could disappear in the next few decades if we don’t decisively act. This is why I am honoured to support the launch of @Rewild — to protect what’s still wild and help restore the rest.”

In practice, the project will involve restoring Floreana Island, which is home to 54 threatened species, and reintroducing 13 locally-extinct species, including the Floreana mockingbird — the first mockingbird species described by Darwin, after his visit to the Galapagos Islands on HMS Beagle in 1835. There is also a captive breeding programme to prevent the extinction of the endangered pink iguana on Isabela Island, and other measures will go towards protecting marine resources to improve local eco-tourism.

DiCaprio’s eco-philanthropism dates back to long before he became a Hollywood heavyweight. He set up the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation “dedicated to the protection and wellbeing of all Earth’s inhabitants” in 1998 — shortly after starring in Titanic, when he was 24. Since then, the fund has awarded more than $100 million in grants to more than 200 projects spanning wildlife, oceans and marine life, climate change, science and indigenous rights, and has evolved to become a part of Earth Alliance, co-chaired by billionaires Laurene Powell Jobs and Brian Sheth.

Protest what you preach: DiCaprio at the People’s Climate March, 2014 (AFP via Getty Images)
Protest what you preach: DiCaprio at the People’s Climate March, 2014 (AFP via Getty Images)

In 2005, he spent $1.75 million buying Blackadore Caye, a 104-acre, uninhabited island off the coast of Belize, which had suffered overfishing. The resort is expected to become solar-powered, with a research facility installed.

While he is not an out-out vegan, he has been vocal about eating less meat and has invested in a number of plant-based initiatives. DiCaprio backed healthy chickpea snack brand Hippeas back in 2016, meat replacement brand Beyond Burger in 2017 and was one of a group, including Karlie Kloss and Jared Leto, who invested more than $50 million in Califia Farms, a probiotic and non-dairy milk and yoghurt drinks brand in 2018. Earlier this year, he shared a post with his 19 million Twitter followers promoting one of his brands, which stated: “If every person in the US replaced just one beef burger per week with a plant-based Beyond burger, it would be the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road.”

His love of gas-guzzling jets and yachts has not gone without criticism — but he’s vocal about changing the world

But his movie star lifestyle — and love of gas-guzzling private jets and yachts — has not gone without criticism by those who point out the magnitude of his own carbon footprint.

Still, he’s vocal about creating a better world. In February 2016, DiCaprio dedicated his Best Actor Oscar acceptance speech to climate change. “Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating,” he said. The same year, he co-produced Before the Flood, a National Geographic documentary about climate change directed by Fisher Stevens, which sees him travel to five continents and the Arctic, interviewing Barack Obama and the Pope, as a UN Messenger of the Peace.

And he’s an animal lover too — or, as actor and director Edward Norton puts it, DiCaprio “loses his mind around animals”. In fact, it’s got him in trouble. “I’ve known Leo a long time and he loses his mind around animals,” Norton told The Jonathan Ross Show in November 2019, recalling a diving expedition the two of them had taken to the Galapagos Islands in 2016. “He really has a childlike passion for them. This flight of 100 spotted eagle rays went by below us and I saw the look on his face.

Spread the word: UN Messenger of Peace DiCaprio addresses the United Nations (AFP via Getty Images)
Spread the word: UN Messenger of Peace DiCaprio addresses the United Nations (AFP via Getty Images)

“I saw him charging off with this camera that he had, and I have been diving since I was 16 years old. I reflectively looked at my watch and was like: ‘We’re very close to the end.’” Norton, who is an experienced diver, realised that DiCaprio did not have enough oxygen to complete the dive and followed him. “I saw him going off and down and I knew that wasn’t a good thing so I followed him because I thought to myself, ‘he’s chasing these things, he’s going to run out of air’ — and he did.”

We can only imagine how wild he will be going for the giant turtles in the Galapagos.

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