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    • I first got to know you thanks to the Creator Awards when Coral Vita won in Washington DC back in March 2017.  You met your cofounder Gator Halpern while you were both getting your Master of Environmental Management degrees at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Was it an instant friendship and a camaraderie that inspired you to work together?

    • It’s tough to not be immediately drawn towards a person named Gator (especially when you then learn his brothers are named Moose and Griffin)! We became fast friends as we started grad school together, and immediately realized we had a share passion for problem-solving around big environmental challenges. Gator’s spent most of his life trying to figure out ways to better bring about harmony between people and nature. He entered our program on more of an academic track, while my background was more focused on policy and non-profits. What we both realized though was that many of the most pressing threats to the environment weren’t being solved at the scale or urgency required through traditional methods. And that perhaps creating a mission-driven business was the way to break through the roadblocks preventing large-scale and financially sustainable global reef restoration.

    • Coral Vita’s mission is to help grow diverse and resilient corals and then transplant them into threatened reefs to help preserve the ocean's biodiversity, and it’s so exciting to be able to follow along with your building your first coral farm in Grand Bahama! Can you catch us up on your journey to here?

    • It’s been quite a ride! Gator and I formerly incorporated Coral Vita as a company back in August 2015, after we completed Yale’s summer accelerator for student entrepreneurs. We spent the better part of the next two years refining our business model, raising the funds we needed to launch our pilot coral farm, finding the best location to start operations, and recruiting some of the world’s leading coral scientists to advise us. Through the support of impact-focused funds, prizes, grants, and fellowships, and ocean champion angel investors like professional baseball player Max Scherzer, we secured the money we needed.

      We then ultimately decided to partner with the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and Grand Bahama Development Corporation (DEVCO) to build our pilot. Recognizing the immense value coral reefs provide to their island’s tourism economy, fishing industry, and coastal properties and infrastructure, supporting Coral Vita was a win-win for them. DEVCO leased us a plot of land alongside a canal with great water quality for next-to-nothing, and the GBPA helped facilitate the permits we needed to start our business in Grand Bahama. Fast forward to today, and we’re just a few months away from launching operations on the world’s first commercial land-based coral farm for reef restoration!

      The Grand Bahama farm will serve as a proof-of-concept for our business model and restoration efforts. While growing up to 10,000 coral per year for restoration, our farm will serve both as a marine education center for local communities (who we plan to integrate into our projects as much as possible) and an eco-tourism attraction. Visitors to Grand Bahama can see coral farming in action on farm tours, pay to adopt coral or plant them with our team, and even get reef restoration SCUBA certification with local dive shops. We then plan to raise a Series A in about 18 months to support our first large-scale farms, growing hundreds of thousands or even millions of corals annually (which would be the biggest restoration effort ever). At this size, we then start selling restoration services to customers who depend on healthy reefs, such as hotels, developers, cruise lines, re-insurers, governments, and more. Ultimately, we envision a global network of land-based coral farms in each of the nearly 100 countries and territories with reefs around the world to preserve these incredible ecosystems for future generations.

    • The growing techniques you use - new methods developed at the Mote Marine Lab that accelerate coral farming up to 50x natural rates and strengthen their resiliency to changing oceanic conditions - sound absolutely fascinating. Considering the average coral can be dozens of years old, how soon can we start to hope to see Coral Vita corals out in the wild?

    • These breakthroughs are so exciting. As I mentioned before, traditional ocean-based coral farms like the one I described from Mauritius can only grow a select number of fast-growing species. This misses out on a swath of critical species diversity, especially when considering the functionality of some for sheltering coastlines from storms or promoting fish habitat. One of our advisors is Dr. David Vaughan, who while at Mote stumbled upon a method known as microfragmenting that lets us know grow slow-growing corals in months rather than the decades they’d take in the wild. All while using natural healing properties from within coral to accelerate their growth!

      At the same time, we partnered with the late great Dr. Ruth Gates, who helped pioneer the field of ‘assisted evolution,’ which is developing ways to strengthen coral resiliency to threats like warming and acidifying oceans. Our land-based farms not only let us integrate microfragmenting, but also control the growing conditions in our tanks. Through this, we can for example mimic future temperature projections and train our corals to withstand oceanic changes. And such methods have already been shown by others to increase the survivability of corals grown for restoration.

      By combining microfragmenting with assisted evolution with our commercial model, we can now grow more diverse and resilient coral in 6-18 month growing cycles, vastly improving the impact, cost, and scale of reef restoration.

    • The Coral Vita team is incredibly passionate about the oceans. What are some important things about coral and coral reefs that we may not be aware of?

    • When you first think of coral reefs, maybe you think of bright colors, beautiful fish, weird shapes, Finding Nemo… And all those things are true. Coral reefs are one of the most spectacular ecosystems on Earth. For me, visiting them is almost like experiencing alien life on another planet, but in fact they’re just right off the beach beneath the waves.

      Ecological wonder aside though, they are incredibly valuable. Despite covering less than 1% of the ocean floor, coral reefs sustain 25% of marine life and provide food, jobs, and shelter to up one billion people. They generate $30 billion annually through tourism, fisheries, and coastal protection, providing the lifeblood for communities, countries, and industries. In many nations, coral reefs form the bedrock of cultural heritage, like in Hawaii, where origin stories tell of all life actually emerging from a coral polyp. And they also are a source of countless compounds used in existing and yet-to-be-discovered life-saving pharmaceuticals – some estimate that coral reefs have 300-400 times more medicinal compounds than tropical rainforests.

      Sadly, all of this is threatened by global reef degradation. Which is why we’re doing what we are doing at Coral Vita.

    • What are some of the most beautiful yet vulnerable coral habitats - I’m thinking of Shark Bay, but I’m sure there must be others - that you’ve seen in your travels?

    • I’m lucky enough through my work to have been to some spectacular reefs around the world. The Bahamas is world famous for its crystal clear warm waters (think James Bond in Thunderball), shark dives (which I’ve done many times, no worries), and miles of coral reefs. My time in Mauritius also was magnificent, diving with dolphins, every color imaginable, and vast school of fish. I visited the Great Barrier Reef for the first time last summer while I was out there for a coral reef restoration workshop, and I’m actually en route to the Red Sea now for another workshop. My bucket list includes Indonesia, the Seychelles, Palau, and plenty more.

      As you pointed out in your question though, all of these places have suffered high rates of coral mortality. The best thing to do for coral reefs isn’t to hire companies like Coral Vita, but (shockingly) is to stop killing them. We need our political, industry, and media leaders to step up and push climate change mitigation measures forward, alongside efforts to eliminate pollution, overfishing, and activities that harm both coral reefs and human health. Failure is not an option, and time is of the essence to protect them.

    • Beyond growing more climate-resilient coral, reducing ocean plastic waste, and changing sunscreen habits, what are other things we can be doing to help support corals?

    • Vote for political leaders who recognize that environmental health is inextricably linked to our prosperity, health, and security. In the billions of years of history of Earth, it’s only since the end of the last Ice Age that human beings made the leap forward from bands of hunter gatherers to modern civilization. And in that time, we’ve been blessed with an incredibly stable climate that supported the ecosystems and life we needed to survive and grow. If that gets thrown out of whack, it will be heartbreaking to see so much wildlife decimated. But ultimately, Earth will eventually recover, and life will take new forms. The real problem we have to reckon with is that humanity will be screwed. Everything that exists that allows us to live will be out of balance, like the coral reefs that feed and protect us from storms.

      Demand that our politicians step up to protect us all by protecting coral reefs. For those worried about refugees, imagine what will happen when hundreds of millions of people can no longer feed themselves off of reef fisheries, lose their homes to rising waves, and have no more jobs from a dead scuba and snorkel economy. I could keep going with more examples, but that’s really how you can have the most impact. Call your representatives and let them know that if they don’t step up, then you’re going to kick them out. Because they are failing us all in the name of ignorance and greed.

    • We’re shooting to host our ribbon-cutting ceremony this May, and we can’t wait for people to come visit! The flight to Freeport is just an easy 30 minutes from Fort Lauderdale and Miami, with plenty of comfortable places to stay on the island. The farm will be open for tours and workshops, and once corals are ready to be installed into the reefs (likely starting early 2020), folks will hopefully be able to participate in coral plantings with the local dive shops.

      And if you live in a country with coral reefs that need help, reach out to your local government representatives, tourism operators, and community leaders and let them know they should start reaching out to us at http://www.coralvita.co/, so we can lay the groundwork to bring Coral Vita’s reef restoration solutions to you! Can’t wait to have you down planting corals with us soon enough Victoria!