Coral Vita is growing climate-change resilient coral in order to restore dying coral reefs. Note: Between now and the end of the year, we’re counting down the top twelve popular podcast interviews of 2018. It is a people’s choice award, determined by the number of downloads. This interview originally aired on January 22, 2018.
Coral reefs make up less than 1% of the surface area of the oceans, and yet, they provide a home for 25% of all marine fish species. Globally, coral reefs contain between 6,000 and 8,000 species of fish. As a point of comparison, across North America, there are 914 species of birds. Humans depend on coral reefs for everything from livelihoods, food, and medicines.
According to Sam Teicher, co-founder of Coral Vita, “There are up to one billion people around the world who depend on reefs for their livelihoods. Reefs conservatively generate $30 billion per year through tourism, fisheries, and costal protection.”
Sam’s cofounder at Coral Vita, Gator Halpern adds, “The ocean provides us, not only most of the oxygen that we breathe, but also food for billions of people around the world.”
However, coral reefs are threatened worldwide. It took between 5,000 and 10,000 for the Great Barrier Reef to be created by nature. And yet, because of overfishing, poor coastal development, pollution and climate change, we expect to lose 75% of all of the world’s coral by 2050, unless we do something about it.
Sam continues, “This is obviously an ecological tragedy, losing such incredible ecosystems, but what we’re also considering is that this is a socio-economic catastrophe.” Gator added, “These issues of ocean degradation are essential for everyone, everywhere. All lifeforms depend on having healthy coral reefs to survive.”
Coral Vita brings dying reefs back to life by growing climate change resilient corals and transplanting them into degraded reefs. They are establishing a network of land-based coral farms. Sam explains, “We sell coral restoration as a service to customers who depend on healthy reefs, like hotels, governments, the coastal insurance industry.”
Coral Vita works with cutting edge researchers to grow coral through a process called “assisted evolution.” Assisted evolution allows Coral Vita to boost the climate resilience of coral. Gator and Sam work closely with Dr. Ruth Gates at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, and Dr. David Vaughan of the Mote Marine Lab to commercialize their work.
Sam experienced a coral reef restoration project in Mauritius in 2012 and 2013. The project was funded by a grant from the UN. “I saw fishermen returning to this lagoon,” Sam says. “It was amazing to see, we can bring a reef back to life. But, there is only so much grant funding. Given the scope of the problem…that grant funding model wasn’t going to cut it.”
Sam and Gator both grew up on the ocean. They met while studying at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. “We both wanted to make the big changes in the world we think are necessary in order to have our society thrive in the future.” Gator explains. When Sam explained his experience with a coral farm in Mauritius to Gator, Gator says “My eyes lit up. I thought this was an incredible thing. My entrepreneurial mind starting thinking, ‘Hey, this could be a company!’”
Sam and Gator wrote their business plan in their last semester at Yale. Since then, their work has been recognized and supported by organizations such as Echoing Green, Halcyon Incubator, J.M Kaplan Fund, and more.
So far, Coral Vita has raised $1 million to launch and run their pilot coral farm. They are taking pre-orders for an “adopt a coral” campaign.
Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Gator Halpern and Sam Teicher “Since the 1970’s, we’ve lost around 30% of the world’s reefs.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“We’re projected to lose 75% of reefs by 2050.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“Over the last few years, over half of the Great Barrier Reef died, or is dying.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“There are up to one billion people around the world who depend on reefs.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“Reefs conservatively generate $30 billion per year.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“Coral reefs dying is a serious problem that effects everyone everywhere.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“The ocean provides us, not only most of the oxygen that we breathe, but also food for billions of people around the world.” Gator Halpern, @CoralVitaReefs
“We are creating stronger reefs that will be able to survive the oceans of the future.” Gator Halpern, @CoralVitaReefs
“The best thing to do for coral reefs is to stop killing them.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“We have this deep love for the ocean environment.” Gator Halpern, @CoralVitaReefs
“We have witnessed how reefs have suffered and died.” Gator Halpern, @CoralVitaReefs
“It’s definitely taken many evolutions.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“How do we create a system that is financially sustainable, to also do large-scale restoration?” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“One grant for one lagoon isn’t going to work for all the world’s reefs.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“I’ve yet to meet an entrepreneur who hasn’t had some sort of setback.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“There is a lot of support out there for people trying to do things to improve our society.” Gator Halpern, @CoralVitaReefs
“In the field of social entrepreneurship, there’s a very strong community led by Echoing Green and Halcyon Incubator.” Gator Halpern, @CoralVitaReefs
“It’s a field that comes with a lot of personal passion.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“Consider who is already working in this space.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“Try to check your ego.” @SamTeicher, @CoralVitaReefs
“Go outside. Be in nature. Jump in the ocean if you can.” Gator Halpern, @CoralVitaReefs
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