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How Startup Coral Vita Makes a Business Case for Recovering Reefs

The mission of Project Drawdown is to promote innovation and solutions that can help mitigate the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, either by avoiding emissions or by binding carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere The atmosphere. The coalition includes researchers, scientists, doctoral students, business leaders and others dedicated to this topic. What could these solutions look like?

GreenBiz, in collaboration with the Yale Center for Business and Environment, publishes a series of questions and answers with entrepreneurial Yale alumni and students working on startups and technologies inspired by the Project Drawdown Agenda. Here is one of these stories, edited for length and clarity. (Previous installments are here.)

Coral Vita is a coral reef specializing company. Mass bleaching of coral reefs has increased in both frequency and severity, moving from a freak event to a "coral reef". new normal condition ". As ocean temperatures rise, coral reefs respond to stress and repel the microalgae, zooxanthellae, which give them energy and color through photosynthesis. They are further weakened by ocean acidification and local pollution.

UNESCO's World Heritage Center predicted that, in a scenario where everything goes as it has been, all 29 coral reefs that hold World Heritage sites will not work by the end of this century ̵


Sam Teicher and Gator Halpern studied at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies met and founded Coral Vita to address this massive crisis.

Mikaela Bradbury: Tell I learned where this project started and how you came together as a team.

Sam Teicher: We were both interested in business solutions to environmental issues. I was more of a political and NGO type and Gator had more academic knowledge and some international development work in Peru, Brazil and South Africa. We immediately began to think, "What are some big environmental issues that need to be resolved quickly, that politics, nonprofit and academic communities are not yet able to implement the right solutions?"

Coming to Forestry School, Gator and I both had a passion for the ocean: I've been diving since I was 13, and Gator grew up in San Diego by the sea. We began talking about my experience working on a UN-funded coral farm project at the Mauritian non-profit ELI Africa and thought that starting a business would be a possible way to promote coral reef restoration to the health of the coral reef Protect reefs.

We entered the Venture Creation Program of the Yale Entrepreneurship Institute and received a $ 1,000 grant from the Florida Keys, where a scientist, David Vaughan of the Mote Marine Lab, made the breakthrough to grow corals 50 times faster. We talked to him about the commercialization of his techniques through the model we developed in a School of Management class, and he agreed and came aboard as a consultant. Finally, we have appointed another world-class scholar as a consultant, Ruth Gates of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. She is also the president of the International Society of Reef Studies and heads a new technique called "assisted evolution" that looks at how coral resilience can be improved to better withstand changing oceans

basically the science of Dr Vaughan and dr. Gates want to grow corals faster and stronger, and set up a business model to create a sustainable means of financing large-scale restorations. At the moment we are preparing to set up our first coral farm in the Bahamas in the next few months. We also look forward to appointing a new Chief Science Officer, Steven Ranson, who has previously built and operated the state of the Hawaii Coral Restoration Facility.

Bradbury: I could imagine that the restoration of coral reefs is quite large in infrastructure intensive, with largely common, public benefits. Why do you think that sectors like the nonprofit or public sector that you consider to be that kind of problem are not working and how do you see entrepreneurship brings benefits?

Halpern: More than a third of the world's coral reefs have already died, and by 2050, 75 percent of our coral reefs are expected to die. In addition to the ecological wonders, reefs are incredibly valuable. They generate $ 30 billion annually through tourism, fisheries and coastal protection, while receiving 25% of marine life and 1 billion people. To tackle something so big, we need to develop an industry that seeks to protect the health of coral reefs and restore these extremely valuable ecosystems.

NGOs have done a great job setting the framework for reef restoration and developing some of the techniques necessary for this kind of work, but they have not been able to scale to any significant impact have, if you think about global reef removal. And many of them are because they just do not have the financial means to do it. We are trying to create a for-profit model that will provide the service of rip repair to many stakeholders around the world who benefit from a healthy reef, such as the tourism and fishing industry, and hopefully prove that there is a market for it and inspire others to step up the reef recovery efforts, as no one alone can solve this problem. Bradbury: Can you talk about identifying the stakeholders you want to work with? Halpern: It has definitely evolved over time. We have thought about which actors play a role in the restoration or protection of marine ecosystems, and in particular of coral reefs, ranging from the non-profit and marine institutes that develop the techniques we use to tourism operators and hotels Reef to cross lines that base their entire industry on the waters usually in tropical coral reef areas. In terms of economic prosperity and food security, governments are involved, with many fisheries dependent on coral reefs.

After we had dealt with it, the interest groups became a bit more nuanced. One that we did not originally have, but with which we have a lot of experience, are development companies. Some own tens of thousands of hectares of undeveloped land on tropical islands and are keen to work with us to develop coral farms as part of their development in a greener, sustainable way. The Reef Restoration can serve as a PR and marketing tool, as a guest attraction, as a natural seawall for coastal properties, and to enhance real estate value. Another group of stakeholders are climate change banks, which are well established for wetlands in America, and the reinsurance industry, as coral reefs provide protection against storm surges.

We start in ecotourism space because we think it is the easiest market entry. The farm that we build in the Bahamas will not only be there for restoration – the farm will be an ecotourism center where guests will have an educational background on coral reefs, reef degradation and our project. You can even support our project by donating to an "adoptive coral" campaign we operate, and finally, snorkelling and scuba diving on the reefs, which we rebuild with the unique experience of planting corals themselves.

Bradbury: Can you talk about your method? In the Bahamas project, do you use corals that you have cultivated on agricultural farms and then transplanted?

Halpern : Much of the infrastructure base will be land based farming systems. Imagine a fish farming aquaculture with tanks pumping seawater through the coral. When the farms are in operation, we will collect corals from local reefs, so we always use native corals.

The two main ways of collecting coral are "corals of opportunity" – corals that live but broken and lying on the seafloor from a grounding of a ship or a big storm. So we can take these corals and bring them to our farm. The other thing we can do is to take cuts from living colonies, much like you can take a cut from a flower or a tree. Once in our facility, depending on the species, we will use these methods to grow corals up to 50 times faster and strengthen their resistance to climate change. The cycle can typically take six to twelve months before they are ready to be brought to our designated restoration sites.

Bradbury: Are the land requirements for your farms challenging?

Teicher: Part of the sales argument has shown the economic value of coral to people who have skin in play. So, if you are a developer and have free or cheap land for our farms, you will benefit from our work. They have the capacity to restore these ecosystems that help attract tourists and feed local communities. The same applies if government properties are available or a hotel that has space on its property. In fact, we have been talking to governments in the long term if there can be such things as discounts, but right now we're using the socioeconomic value of reefs to help incentivize people to acquire those countries, because ultimately it's a win-win situation all.

Bradbury: Can you think about climate change and adaptation both in terms of your own carbon footprint and when talking to your customers?

Halpern : We will be the first to say that the best you can do for reefs is not to kill them. And there is also the point where not every reef can be restored and brought back to life. Before we start a project, we look at the initial conditions of the coral reef that we could potentially restore, so that stressors such as local pollution and overfishing can be actively managed to increase the probability of success. We look at areas where actors are doing things like setting up a reef sanctuary and managing their fisheries so we can work to restore reefs in places that are likely to survive and thrive in the future. As a company, we want to equip our farms with solar panels to reduce our own carbon footprint, and we definitely talk to potential customers to develop the best management practices for marine conservation and reef health.

Teicher : One last piece is to integrate the local communities as much as possible into our projects, because in the end, they are the ones who benefit and suffer the most from reef health. So, we want to create jobs, possibly be the farm managers trained reef scientists from the country, and work with local fishermen. We want to use our farms as educational centers for schoolchildren and university students to promote this long-term responsibility, which in turn can reduce local stressors. As Gator said, the best we can do for coral reefs is to stop killing them. But we are at the point where customization solutions need to be implemented right now, while our leaders continue to make meaningful mitigation actions.

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