The Mubadala ACCESS Center Awarded One Million USD Grant for Research from Dalio Philanthropies

Mariët Westermann, Mark Dalio, and John Burt

DP, NYUAD, and OceanX to develop partnership on range of education projects in the ocean space

The Mubadala Arabian Center for Climate and Environmental Sciences (ACCESS) at NYU Abu Dhabi today announced that it received a grant from Dalio Philanthropies to support cutting-edge climate research, including ways to increase coral resilience in a warming ocean. 

The one million USD grant will include two years of support for a project led by NYUAD professor of biology John Burt that will explore the selection and crossbreeding of heat-resistant corals in the Arabian Gulf with heat-sensitive corals found elsewhere to produce climate-resistant corals that can better withstand climate change.

As waters warm and ocean chemistry changes due to increased CO2 levels, coral around the world is experiencing more frequent bleaching and loss. Corals in the Arabian Gulf, however, have proven able to survive at significantly higher temperatures. In initial experiments, Burt’s team found that crossbreeding UAE corals with Indian Ocean corals can lead to 84 percent higher heat tolerance in hybrid offspring.

In addition to supporting this project, the grant provides an anchor for future collaborations between global ocean exploration nonprofit OceanX, an operating program of Dalio Philanthropies, and NYUAD, particularly around ocean education and scientific research. The partnership kicked off this month with an OceanX-led research mission in the UAE with Burt and other scientists from the Mubadala ACCESS Center studying the region’s ecosystems, biodiversity, and megafauna. Together, scientists from OceanX and NYUAD will develop a comprehensive baseline understanding of UAE waters to better predict the impacts of climate change drivers globally. 

OceanX and NYUAD are committed to exploring other opportunities for collaboration, including NYUAD student internships at OceanX, participation in OceanX's flagship educational program, Young Explorers; and other ocean education initiatives.

“OceanX is excited to collaborate with Dr. Burt and NYUAD on research in the UAE that will have far-reaching implications for coral restoration and understanding of climate effects. At OceanX we believe educating the public about the ocean is necessary to ensure the future health and sustainability of our planet; it is impossible to protect what we do not know. Partnering with this world-class educational institution and its global student body will allow us to conduct critical ocean research, further innovative educational projects, and increase ocean literacy worldwide.”

Founder and Co-CEO of OceanX Mark Dalio
OceanXplorer. Courtesy OceanX

The Mubadala ACCESS Center is a leading research group focused on the climate and the environment of the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf region. It brings scientific research on local and regional climate change and the environment up to speed with the rapid development of the societies and economies that live in the region.


“The research we have initiated in collaboration with Dalio Philanthropies is of immense significance, not only for the UAE and the regional biodiversity, but also for the world. This year, global sea temperatures hit record levels, which adds even more urgency to the discussions taking place during COP28 towards reductions in carbon emissions. We are presented with an amazing opportunity to help protect nature, our greatest ally, in all its diversity in order to combat the challenges of climate change. Preserving the richness of ocean biodiversity is an investment in the future of our planet and all life that depends on it.”

NYUAD Associate Professor of Biology John Burt

The grant announcement follows the formal signing of a memorandum of understanding between NYU Abu Dhabi, Dalio Philanthropies, and OceanX at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, UAE, where OceanX hosted a Blue Zone Pavilion with IOC-UNESCO.