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100 Blue Angels: A Personalized Kickstarter for One Marine Biologist

Wallace "J" Nichols is crowdsourcing his life's work. And saving his home in the process.

Wallace

It's difficult to make it as an independent scientist. You have the freedom to study whatever you want, but don't have the financial security that comes with employment at a large institution. That's why Wallace "J" Nichols, founder of Ocean Revolution and research associate at the California Academy of Sciences, almost had to sell his home three months ago. Instead of searching for a full-time job with benefits, Nichols opted to continue his independent research—with a little help from his 100 Blue Angels.

Nichols's 100 Blue Angels project launched last December as a platform to allow Nichols to continue his work, which includes documenting ocean disasters, organizing viral ocean awareness campaigns, and organizing ocean-related conferences. The project is simple: Anyone who supports Nichols's work can become one of his 100 Blue Angels by offering up a monthly contribution. Different contribution levels come with different rewards. A $25 per month contribution, for example, yields a signed copy of Nichols's children's book, Chelonia: Return of the Sea Turtle, while a $1,000 contribution offers the promise of joining the marine biologist on an upcoming research expedition.

Since launching in December, the 100 Blue Angels project has been wildly successful. Nichols already has 76 people signed up, giving him a monthly salary of approximately $4,000 (and the financial security to keep his house). The scientist estimates that he is ten times as productive as when he worked inside a larger organization, simply because he doesn't have to deal with bureaucracy."The idea is that if you have intellectual and financial independence, you don't need a big organization," says Nichols. "I can collaborate with colleagues in El Salvador who can only pay me El Salvadorean wages or take a speaking gig that only offers $50."

And, as of last week, Nichols has another way to support himself. He is selling blue marbles as part of the Blue Marbles Project, an effort to inspire ocean awareness by getting blue marbles into the hands of everyone on the planet. Launched two years ago by Nichols and Sarah Kornfeld, the initiative has already seen over one million blue marbles pass through the hands of people around the world—and now Nichols wants to leverage the Blue Marbles Project to fund his other work.

Next up for Nichols: BlueMind, a conference this coming June at the California Academy of Sciences that will explore the relationship between neuroscience and the ocean.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.

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