We dreamed up the idea for a global coral reef restoration company in grad school. This weekend we began setting up our first coral farm.
(Washington, DC) January 10th, 2018 – Mote Marine Laboratory and Coral Vita have formally entered into a collaborative coral conservation initiative to increase coral reef restoration efforts globally in order to rehabilitate at-risk reef ecosystems.
The goal of this collaboration is to advance the science, frameworks, and strategies of coral reef restoration with a particular interest in developing a sustainable economic model to help scale reef restoration. The partnership officially began on November 7, 2017, with the signing of a one-year memorandum of understanding (MOU), with the intent to extend in the future.
Coral reef health: why this matters
Globally, coral reefs support livelihoods and food security for up to one billion people, sustain 25% of marine life, and generate tens of billions of dollars annually through tourism, fisheries, and coastal protection. But reefs are under serious threat: more than 30% have died since the 1970s, and in the past few years up to 50% of the Great Barrier Reef perished due to unnatural ocean warming. Accelerating coral degradation poses a major risk to these ecosystems and the value they provide to associated communities, nations, and industries.
“The loss of coral reefs is not just an ecological tragedy, but a socio-economic catastrophe,” said Sam Teicher, Co-Founder of Coral Vita. “We are witnessing one of the most critically important and wondrous ecosystems disintegrate in front of us, and countless people will suffer from it. That’s why we must act right now to preserve coral reefs for future generations.” Coral Vita is a for-profit start-up working to restore our world’s dying and damaged reefs. It uses innovative restoration techniques – like the microfragmenting method developed by Mote scientists to accelerate growth rates up to 50x – and a land-based coral farming model in an effort to scale up restoration and create sustainable financing mechanisms for their work. Ultimately, Coral Vita envisions a global network of large-scale farms to sustain these vital ecosystems and the communities they support.
Collaborations such as this one are a strategic component to amplify coral restoration efforts at Mote. In recent years, Mote has partnered with notable organizations such the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge and SCUBAnauts for assistance with outplantings and The Nature Conservancy for coral restoration at unprecedented scales throughout the Caribbean. Due to the success of these relationships and Coral Vita’s vision, this new collaboration is a natural progression is expanding the coral research and restoration mission.
“Mote has a nearly 63-year history of diverse research conducted by scientists driven by their passion for research for impact in addressing the grand challenges threatening the sustainability of our oceans. Coral reef ecosystems are particularly impacted by increasing ocean temperature and acidification that has pushed these rainforests of the sea past a tipping point for them to be able to recover on their own. The basic and transformative research that Mote conducts is vital, but we also have a responsibility to translate and transfer the findings of our science into positive ecological, societal and economic impacts,” shared Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President & CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory. “It is entrepreneurial and philanthropic collaborations like this one with Coral Vita, in which solid science and action will ensure whether or not corals will thrive once again for centuries to come.”
“We’re incredibly excited to establish this formal relationship with Mote in order to help bring reef restoration to the next level,” said Gator Halpern, Co-Founder of Coral Vita. “Mote is one of the institutions that inspired us as we created Coral Vita, and they continue to develop cutting-edge research that makes impactful reef restoration not only a possibility, but a viable reality. It will be great to continue learning from and working with the Mote team over the coming years in order to make the difference we all care about: sustaining as many coral reefs as possible.”
What this partnership will accomplish
Collaboration between one of the world’s leading marine research labs and a pioneering start-up will enhance and amplify the science and impact of coral reef restoration. This in turn provides coral reefs a significantly better opportunity to survive rapidly changing oceans until global actors implement solutions to mitigate climate change and environmental degradation.
Over the next year, Mote and Coral Vita will explore strategies to enhance coral reef education campaigns for local reef communities and global audiences, investigate potential joint research projects, and share materials to advance the efficacy of coral reef restoration. Coral Vita is preparing to launch its pilot coral farm in the Caribbean in early 2018. As an independent, nonprofit marine science and education institution of five campuses from Sarasota, Florida to the Florida Keys that conducts diverse research programs around the world, Mote has developed innovative technologies to grow staghorn, brain, boulder and star coral fragments and planted approximately 30,000 of them onto depleted reefs in the Florida Keys. In early 2017, Mote opened a new coral reef research and education facility at its Summerland Key campus, where Mote scientists have already pioneered groundbreaking methods to restore reef-building corals at accelerated rates and begun to genetically identify staghorn coral strains for potential resilience against threat. In addition to working with Coral Vita in 2018, Mote plans to increase the outplanted number of corals significantly, expand the research team and their efforts to accommodate the changing ocean conditions.
Support coral reef restoration and research:
● Donate to Mote: Please contact Erin Kabinoff at 941-388-4441, ext. 415 firstname.lastname@example.org
● Adopt-a-coral with Coral Vita: Please contact email@example.com
Originally published in Wild Gift
Two weeks ago, an “obituary” for the Great Barrier Reef flew across the Internet like grapeshot fired from a cannon. But the pronouncement was premature. Coral reefs are indeed dying, but they are not yet dead. Witness textbook hyperbole: “The Great Barrier Reef was predeceased by the South Pacific’s Coral Triangle, the Florida Reef off the Florida Keys, and most other coral reefs on earth. It is survived by the remnants of the Belize Barrier Reef and some deepwater corals.” Roughly 30% of the northern Great Barrier Reef suffered severe bleaching from spikes in ocean temperatures this year and coral cover in the Caribbean has declined up to 80% since the 1970s. There’s no doubt the world’s reefs are at grave risk, but it’s not yet time to lose hope or deal in falsehoods.
As someone who’s dedicating my life to preserving coral reefs through my venture Coral Vita, I appreciate how seriously pollution, overfishing, and warming & acidifying oceans threaten their health. But for the average reader, who likely may not possess even a passing awareness of what’s happening to our world’s reefs, this story risks becoming accepted fact. That’s exactly why the article went viral, and why a host of coral scientists stepped out to vociferously condemn the dangers of Rowan Jacobsen’s piece.
Russell Brainard, chief of NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Program told the Huffington Post he fears Jacobsen reinforces a popular sentiment that “If there’s nothing that can be done, let’s not do anything and move onto other issues.” And that’s not just some heedless anxiety: dozens of people asked me if the Great Barrier Reef is really dead in the days following the obituary’s trending Internet status. I can only imagine what beliefs countless readers now hold about the fate of coral reefs.
So what can be done? In my view, there are three general courses of action: stop killing reefs, actively restore reef health, and instill hope in people that we can make things better.
Stopping reefs from dying is the most obvious and important strategy, but also the most challenging and time-consuming. Mitigating risks is always the smart choice. Why pay an excess financial, social, and environmental price after the damage is done rather than spending less up front to prevent the pain from occurring? It seems like a no-brainer. But how bullish are you feeling about betting on governments and private industry to enact policies to stop overfishing, excess coastal development, and pollution while implementing a strong & sufficient greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty?
I’m an optimistic guy, but I’m also a realist. And even if the best-case mitigation scenario went live, the lag time before positive effects are felt in the oceans would still not be fast enough to prevent mass coral die-off. This is not an argument against mitigation - it remains an absolute necessity. But it’s also an acknowledgement that simultaneous strategies must be pursued.
This brings us to adaptation, and the field where I work: coral reef restoration. I launched Coral Vita with my friend Gator Halpern in order to provide a scalable means to enact large-scale restoration. And we hope that by growing climate change resilient corals en masse, we can not only help preserve reef health but also galvanize hope and inspire people to act to meaningfully protect our planet.
Coral Vita is commercializing proven methods of coral farming that allows us to grow heat- and acidity-tolerant corals up to 50x faster. This translates into corals that are better prepared to survive climate changed-oceans and that can reach mature sizes in months rather than decades. These methods - assisted evolution and microfragmenting - were developed by two of the world’s leading reef scientists and Coral Vita advisors - Dr. Ruth Gates of the University of Hawaii and Dr. David Vaughan of the Mote Marine Lab. After growing native corals in our land-based farms (6-12 month cycles depending on species), we than transplant them into reefs to help revitalize their health and ecosystem services. As noted in a recent Science News article, by “testing an arsenal of options to rescue a diversity of underwater communities…[restoration] could be a quick and affordable way to help severely damaged reefs bounce back.”
Coral Vita believes that selling restoration to clients - such as governments, hotels, fishing associations, and the re-insurance industry - that depend on the $30B annual tourism, fisheries, and coastal protection benefits of reefs will help inject the needed capital to help fight off global degradation. Our pilot coral farm, which we are over halfway through fundraising for, will be a small-scale facility based at a resort in the Dominican Republic. We will restore the local reef attraction while allowing guests and local communities members to participate in the restoration process. From there, we plan to operate a large-scale farm that can service an entire nation’s reefs, with the ultimate vision of managing a global network of farms that can help preserve reef health for future generations.
I wouldn’t be dedicating my life to this cause if hope for healthier oceans wasn’t viable. The journey ahead is not easy. The news of dying reefs must serve as an impetus for stakeholders to act to stop killing the reefs that over 500M people depend upon to survive. But for those feeling like they are growing and losing hope amidst a sea of sobering and misleading news, search for the term #OceanOptimism on social media to shepherd us all back to the promise of a better world. For impactful solutions are now possible, practical, and affordable, made possible by an incredible global community of practitioners working tirelessly make reefs great again. And when you're planning your next beach vacation, think about visiting the Dominican Republic: the Coral Vita team looks forward to planting corals with you and your friends sometime soon.
Sources: Outside Magazine, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Huffington Post, Science News
To our families, friends, colleagues, and supporters,
We at Coral Vita are proud to celebrate World Oceans Day with the launch of Coral Vita's website. Our path forward is far from secure, but we are excited to accept the challenges and have faith in society to chart a course forward to restore the the oceans' health. As President John F. Kennedy once said, "We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch - we are going back from whence we came."
The oceans sustain the peoples and creatures of Earth in more ways than we can fathom. Our current and future well-being is indeed tied to the health of the oceans. We as Coral Vita hope we can do our part to protect coral reefs and the peoples who they support.
See you on the reefs,
Sam and Gator
PS: Happy 25th birthday to Gator!!
Banner photo credit: The Guardian