Gator Halpern &Sam Teicher

Washington, D.C. and San Diego, CA

Project Overview

Coral reefs are in crisis: by 2030, according to the World Resources Institute, more than 90% of global reefs will be threatened by human activities and climate change. Those reefs in turn sustain ecosystems, protect shorelines, attract tourists, and boost fisheries—generating $30 billion annually. Setting out to tackle this daunting challenge, Coral Vita founders Gator Halpern and Sam Teicher found that the admirable work of not-for-profit coral regeneration efforts tended to have limited impacts when living from grant to grant. “It’s impossible for NGOs and research institutes alone to scale up and solve this global issue,” Halpern explained. Instead, tapping capital from resort developers, coastal insurers, international development agencies, and others, Coral Vita seeks to leverage for-profit tools to restore coral reefs. Using processes developed by project advisors, the team envisions a network of land-based coral farms that will accelerate the planting of slow-growing coral that serve as the foundation for reef development, while training coral to withstand warmer ocean conditions to buffer against climate change. In the process, Coral Vita will forge long-term relationships with communities—hiring local reef scientists, or training fishermen to be part of dive teams—to support those whose lives most urgently depend on rebounding reef health.

Five Questions

1What needs does Coral Vita address and how?

Coral reefs are incredibly valuable resources, supporting over a billion people through fisheries production, tourism revenue, and coastal protection. But these ecosystems are dying at frightening rates. Over 30% of reefs have died in the last few decades, and 75% are projected to die by 2050. We simply can’t afford to lose these reefs, and at Coral Vita we are working to ensure they can thrive for generations to come. By creating a network of high-tech coral farms, we will provide large-scale reef restoration projects around the world with climate change-resilient corals grown up to 50 times faster than normal.

2Tell us about a moment that inspired your project.

In 2012, Sam helped launch a United Nations–funded coral farm at the not-for-profit ELI Africa in partnership with the Mauritius Oceanography Institute. When visiting an underwater coral nursery, he was amazed to see how much more life there was nearby compared to the rest of the barren lagoon. And he wasn’t the only one who noticed—there were so many more fish that fishermen were setting up their traps a hundred yards away. Sam discovered the power of reef restoration, and began a journey to scale up the impacts of coral farming.

3What is the biggest challenge you face?

We must educate our clients, as well as society in general, about the critical importance of coral reefs. Many people think that reef restoration should be left to not-for-profits and philanthropists, but this simply isn’t feasible given the scale of the challenge. We are working to shift how people think about these kinds of environmental projects, recognizing that reefs are a vital part of our economy and must be directly supported so that we can continue to benefit from their ecosystem services.

4What other leaders have informed your work?

A number of researchers, practitioners, and ocean advocates have developed reef restoration into what it is today, allowing us to start our work with Coral Vita. A few of our biggest influencers are Dr. Ruth Gates from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology; Dr. David Vaughan of the Mote Marine Lab; ocean champion Dr. Sylvia Earle; Ken Nedimyer of the Coral Restoration Foundation; and Dr. Enric Sala of the Pristine Seas Project.

5Describe someone who highlights what your project is all about.

During Sam’s time in Mauritius, he became friends with a number of fishermen whose lives had become significantly more difficult in recent years. As coral cover declined alongside fish stocks in local lagoons, they were being forced to fish further and further away for dwindling catch sizes. This in turn meant less time to spend with their families, who they were struggling to feed. By helping restore dying coral reefs, Coral Vita hopes to help these communities find greater prosperity from the bounty of rejuvenated ocean ecosystems.

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