Thanks for taking the time to speak with me Victoria - excited to be on Cake!
Coral Vita’s deepest roots for me actually extend well before my time in Mauritius, back to when I was thirteen-years-old. That’s when my parents got me SCUBA certified, and I first fell in love with exploring our underwater planet. I only got to do it when I was lucky enough to go somewhere tropical on a family vacation, but I was hooked.
It was that lifelong love for the ocean that ultimately led me to Mauritius and to launch ELI Africa’s coral farming project. I knew coral reefs were dying around the world – in places like the Florida Keys over 95% of reefs were gone, and between 2004 and when I arrived in Mauritius in 2012 coral cover declined from on about 60% to 20%. All told, we’ve lost half of the world’s reefs since the 1970s, and are projected to lose over 90% by 2050.
While at ELI, I learned about the United Nations grant, and we teamed up with the great scientists at the Mauritius Oceanography Institute (MOI) and successfully obtained funding for a small-scale coral farming project. MOI had done a few different restoration projects around the island, and I still remember visiting one site where there was so much more fish from the healthy coral that fishermen were returning to a bay they had abandoned years before. We chose the lagoon of Trou aux Biches for our project, where we established an underwater nursery with local fishermen and community members that grew about 5,000 coral fragments (imagine tree saplings as an analogy).
I had two key takeaways from this experience: coral restoration can revitalize reef health, and the existing model does not scale to counter global reef degradation. The underwater nurseries can only grow limited coral species, do little to strengthen coral resiliency to climate change threats, are threatened by storms, spikes in ocean temperature, and wayward anchors, and must be set up near each restoration site. And obtaining disparate one-off grants that support small-scale projects simply doesn’t cut it. As I left Mauritius to go to grad school, I knew so much more was possible for protecting reef health. It’s from that realization and love for the ocean that Coral Vita was born.