Friends Sam Teicher and Gator Halpern have co-founded Coral Vita, a high-tech coral farming solution to protect the dying reefs in The Bahamas and around the world. Through high-impact coral reefs restoration, Coral Vita helps preserve reefs for future generations while spurring the blue economy’s growth locally and globally.
Coral Vita’s land-based farms integrate breakthrough methods to accelerate coral growth up to 50x (micro fragmenting) while enhancing their resiliency to warming and acidifying oceans (assisted evolution). Coral Vita’s model scales: one land-based farm can potentially supply an entire nation’s reefs with sufficient capital investment.
Alongside this novel form of high-tech coral farming, Coral Vita is deploying an innovative for-profit model to sustain large-scale restoration. Given reefs’ tremendous value, they are working to transition restoration to a commercial industry. This unique model facilitates revenue generation and better scalability than any current restoration practitioners. Coral Vita sells reef restoration as a service to customers that depend on reefs’ benefits. As the farms grow diverse, resilient, and affordable coral for restoration projects, they also function as eco-tourism attractions and education centres. Guests pay to visit the farms, where they learn about the importance of protecting reefs, and how they can help, including by adopting coral or planting them with Coral Vita’s teams and local dive shops. Students, fishermen, and community members also visit the farm to build local capacity for future jobs in the blue economy, and Coral Vita emphasizes hiring locally as much as possible.
Coral reefs are rapidly dying, and current restoration models are insufficient to protect them and dependent communities. More than 50% of global reefs are dead. By 2050, 90%+ are projected to die. Degradation’s ecological tragedy, which threatens 25% of all marine life, is also a serious socio-economic catastrophe. Coral reefs directly support 1B people in ~100 nations and conservatively generate $30B annually via tourism, fisheries production, and coastal protection. Many of these people are low-income, indigenous, women, and have limited mobility or economic opportunities.
The best thing to do for coral reefs is for our leaders in government, industry, and the media to implement mitigation initiatives for climate change, pollution, and overfishing to stop killing them. In the meantime, adaptation solutions are required. Scientists and practitioners have refined coral farming as a means to revive reef health. But there’s currently no sizable supply of coral or marketplace for reef-dependent customers pay for critically needed large-scale restoration projects.
Coral Vita launched the world’s first commercial land-based coral farm for reef restoration in May 2019. In the following three months the farm was operational before Hurricane Dorian struck in September. It grew 24 native coral species, reducing the ratio of coral eggs required to produce a settler during the annual spawning event from 1,000,000:1 in the wild to ~100:1 in Coral Vita’s lab. Moreover, the farm provided hands-on marine education to ~1000 local students, community members, and tourists. It also made millions of impressions online to raise awareness about the importance of protecting coral reefs. Coral Vita is boosting the blue economy in the Bahamas.
In October 2018, Coral Vita was part of the team that successfully pitched to an international competition for their community to launch a multimillion-dollar prize to support coral reef conservation and restoration. Moreover, Coral Vita successfully launched the first-ever private investment round to support coral reef restoration and they are in the process of raising a second round.
Coral Vita currently operates one coral farm in Freeport, Grand Bahama, benefitting local populations here. The farm is currently being scaled up to service restoration projects throughout the whole country, and ultimately they plan to launch large-scale coral farms in every country and territory with coral reefs.
If Coral Vita’s long-term scaling plans are successful, the world will still be full of thriving coral reefs that will sustain biodiversity and livelihoods around the world. Coral Vita is working to ensure that future generations don’t live without some of the most inspiring and important ecosystems on the planet – failure is not an option. Diverse, resilient, and affordable coral will be available to regenerate reef health, and Coral Vita’s initiative will have helped galvanize a ‘Restoration Economy’ that creates a new industry to protect ecosystems while creating good local jobs.
The overarching challenge is the nature of why Coral Vita needs to exist: coral reefs are dying. And together with historical factors like pollution, overfishing, or bad development practices, the biggest threat is warming and acidifying oceans driven by climate change.
Major storms threaten reef and farm health. Despite being designed to withstand Cat 5 hurricanes, the unprecedented nature of Hurricane Dorian provided valuable lessons on hurricane preparedness. The farm buildings withstood 225+mph winds, and their foundations were set at ~9 ft above high tide (nearly double the 100-year-flood event), but it wasn’t designed to be under the ocean, which is what happened with the ~18-foot storm surge.
Permitting for restoration can often take a considerable amount of time. Building partnerships both within The Bahamas (aka the national government or the Grand Bahama Port Authority) and abroad for the future (aka the Global Island Partnership or the United Nations) is helping mitigate potentially lengthy permitting processes by building strategic partnerships with key officials and organizations for future farms.
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