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How Coral Vita are reviving our oceans one reef at a time

Coral Vita coral cookie in water

Coral reefs are some of the most essential ecosystems on Earth, providing habitats for countless vulnerable marine species and protecting the lives and livelihoods of billions of people.

Sadly, many of our reefs are dying from the effects of climate change. Spurred by this, 2021 Earthshot Prize winner Coral Vita are on a mission to restore the world’s reefs.

We sat down with Co-Founder Sam Teicher to learn more about their incredibly important work.

Hi Sam, for those that may not be familiar with Coral Vita, please bring us up to speed on what Coral Vita do?

Simply put, Coral Vita grows coral to restore dying reefs. Just like people cultivate trees for reforestation, we cultivate coral for reef restoration.

Using methods pioneered by our original advisors, we strengthen our coral’s resilience to threats like climate change while accelerating growth rates up to 50x faster. After growing the coral in our high-tech, land-based farms until they reach a suitable size, they are outplanted into degraded reefs in the ocean to revitalize their health.

Rather than relying on traditional one-off grants and donations, we harness the huge social and economic benefits that coral reefs provide by selling ‘restoration-as-a service’ to reef-dependent customers as well as offering farm tours and digital coral adoption.

Why is it so important for our oceans to protect coral reefs?

Coral reefs are one of the most magical ecosystems on the planet – and they are also one of the most important.

Found in over 100 nations, they support the livelihoods of up to one billion people while sustaining 25% of marine life – despite covering less than 1% of the seafloor. Coral reefs also generate up to an estimated $2.7 trillion annually through tourism and fisheries, they shelter coastlines from storms, underpin the cultural heritage of countless communities and even provide medicinal compounds for drugs.

But all this wonder and value is on the line because we are in danger of losing them in the span of a single human life. Half of the world’s coral reefs have died since the 1970s and over 90% are on track to die by 2050 from climate change and habitat destruction.

Acidifying and warming oceans can cause coral to die through bleaching – this is when temperatures warm so much that coral expels the colourful symbiotic algae that live inside them and feed them. There have been five major bleaching events since 1998, and as Earth’s temperature keeps rising due to fossil fuel emissions, it’s projected that these mass coral bleaching events will happen every other year.

Just as ending deforestation is a crucial task, we know that reforestation is essential and impactful. So too is the need and opportunity to scale coral reef restoration to revive ocean health and preserve ecosystems that sustain us all.

What progress have you made since winning The Earthshot Prize?

It’s exciting to see how much progress we’ve made since winning The Earthshot Prize for Revive Our Oceans, with much facilitated by the Earthshot Prize community.

At the coral farm in Grand Bahama, we’ve scaled up our coral outplanting and restoration efforts. Nine new employees have been hired (six of whom are Bahamian), we have acquired lab systems designed by the Coral Spawning Lab to produce baby corals year-round and signed new contracts to revitalize reef health.

We have also launched brand partnerships with Corona Beer and Cariuma to fund restoration and raise educational awareness. What’s more, Coral Vita are now highlighted as a premier nature-based destination by The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

A portion of our farm has been allocated for Bahamian NGOs to establish a mangrove nursery to restore forests destroyed by Hurricane Dorian and we are preparing to ramp up coral production for the ‘BahamaReefs’ partnership, financed by the Global Fund for Coral Reefs.

In March of 2022, we had the true honour of hosting The Prince and Princess of Wales at the farm. During their visit, they witnessed coral farming in action, met our staff and local partners, and even had the opportunity to join us in the water to plant coral together in Peterson’s Cay National Park.

Have you been able to measure Coral Vita’s impact to date?

Environmentally, we have over 17,000 coral fragments being cultivated across 20 native species, with production targets of at least 30,000 this year. Along the coast of Grand Bahama, we have completed three restoration and relocation projects since the start of 2022, transplanting nearly 10,000 coral fragments.

Our coral survivorship rates are between 45% and 99% compared to traditional Caribbean and Bahamas’ restoration projects, which are typically 30-50%. We have also observed a doubling in fish populations. Notably, there was an increase of parrotfish (which are important for coral health) and a decrease of damselfish (which can damage coral).

From a social perspective, we’ve created 11 full-time jobs and dozens of internships and part-time jobs for Bahamians thus far. Our contributions to the mangrove nursery at our farm – run by Waterkeepers Bahamas and the Blue Action Lab – have led to over 33,000 mangrove cuttings being cultivated for reforestation.

Nearly 1,500 people were educated at the farm (and over 55,000 virtually) in 2022 alone and we have also raised over $60,000 for Hurricane Dorian relief aid and continue contributing to communities in need following the storm.

What’s next for Coral Vita in the coming year and beyond?

As we continue enhancing operations in The Bahamas, we are preparing to expand our work and impact globally.

Ultimately, we envision large-scale land-based coral farms in every nation with coral reefs. These would be supported by a thriving Restoration Economy and operated in partnership with local scientists, community members, practitioners, governments, and private sector leaders.

We launched the ‘Coral Vita Next’ campaign at COP27 and are currently building out a pipeline of stakeholders for where our next coral farms could be, ranging from the Caribbean to the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean and beyond.

Partnerships facilitated by The Earthshot Prize have launched a forthcoming project in the United Arab Emirates supported by DP World, produced a 10-year impact and growth roadmap by Deloitte, and created new high-level relationships and funding opportunities through Bloomberg Philanthropies, among others.

We also joined a global team of coral experts in Saudi Arabia to help design what will become the world’s largest coral farm and are laying the groundwork for a forthcoming Series A investment round.

What tips do you have for people keen to help revive our oceans?

Whether you are or want to be an entrepreneur, scientist, policymaker, educator, activist, or not even a professional at all in this space, we all have the power to help revive our oceans.

It’s a cliché, but I’ve found it to be quite true that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. And whether your actions may be small or big, one-off or long-term, a huge success or an epic failure, it’s worth going for it, because biodiversity, ecosystems, and in truth humanity need our help.

And if you have the privilege to do so, vote at the ballot box or with your wallet for leaders that are actively working to protect the planet that sustains us all.

And finally, what makes you optimistic about the future?

In my soul, I’m both an optimist and a realist, rooted in the belief that no matter how difficult the challenges, we must fix problems and make the world a better place.

I inherited this belief from my parents, particularly my dad, who worked on making peace in the Middle East before I was born. That’s a job where, no matter how strongly you may be guided by idealism, you must accept the realities of histories, cultures, perceptions, and so much more to have any hope of truly making progress. But amidst those stark truths, you also must believe in the possibility of peace, and with optimism about the future being a fundamental guidepost.

The colossal threats to our planet and humanity are real. Appreciating this reality – while being fuelled by my love of nature and optimism in the people, solutions, possibilities, and choices that can make a meaningful difference to preserve the ecosystems that sustain us all is what makes me hopeful for the future.

We Choose to Revive Our Oceans

Learn more about Coral Vita and the amazing work of all our Revive Our Oceans Finalists.

The Earthshot Prize