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Coral Farm ‘Showcase’ Eyes 1m Annual Target

• Says Bahamas can lead in global climate fight

• Prince’s prize winner: ‘We’re in it for long haul’

• GB ‘flagship’ warns 80 of local reefs ‘dead’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamian winner of Prince William’s £1m Earthshot prize yesterday disclosed it is targeting production of 1m coral pieces per year to help “showcase” this nation’s environmental credentials.

Sam Teicher, co-founder of Grand Bahama-based Coral Vita, told Tribune Business that the country has “a real opportunity” to demonstrate “new and needed leadership” in the fight against climate change by acting as “a proving ground” for technologies and methods such as those employed by his company.

Speaking after Coral Vita was unveiled as one of the first five Earthshot prize winners, he confirmed that himself and fellow co-founder, Gaitor Halpern, were “in it for the long haul” in their efforts to restore Bahamian coral reefs that some estimates suggest are “80 percent dead”.

Although their immediate focus is a coral restoration project on Grand Bahama’s southern shores, Mr Teicher confirmed the duo’s ambition to expand their activities throughout the archipelago before ultimately replicating their business model throughout the world with a series of coral farms established in other countries.

Explaining that the Grand Bahama farm, into which they have already invested “several million dollars”, will always be the “flagship” venture, he added that Coral Vita’s work will also help launch this nation into the so-called “Blue Economy”, which is designed to generate wealth in a sustainable manner from using the world’s ocean and coastal resources.

While no assessment has been done on Coral Vita’s potential economic impact, Mr Teicher added that its reef restoration work promises to aid tourism and related water-borne activities, such as scuba diving and snorkelling; fisheries sustainability; and provide more resilient natural defences to climate change and the storm surges driven by increasingly powerful hurricanes.

“We think there’s a real opportunity for The Bahamas to showcase cutting edge models, technologies, solutions that not only benefit the Bahamian people and ecosystems here, but serve as a proving ground for islands and other nations around the world,” he told this newspaper. “It’s definitely an opportunity for new and needed leadership in environmental protection and climate action.”

Using “micro fragmentation” to accelerate coral reef growth, and relying solely on species native to The Bahamas to also provide diversity, Mr Teicher said Coral Vita is able to grow pieces “up to 50 times’ faster” than rival farms using conventional techniques.

“At current capacity we can grow up to 30,000 pieces of coral a year,” he revealed. “It’s our vision that within the next year or two we can grow 100,000 corals a year, and eventually have a farm that that can grow one million or more corals a year.”

Mr Teicher said it was “tough to say” when the latter target will be hit, although he voiced optimism that it will be reached “within the next several years”. The Grand Bahama farm, which currently has ten employees, half of whom are local, will “be hiring a few more next year with the emphasis on Bahamians”, and reaching the one million pieces mark could take the workforce “to a couple of dozen”.

Both himself and Mr Halpern come from strong environmental backgrounds, with the latter more on the academic side and Mr Teicher with a grounding in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and “the policy space”.

Having worked on climate adaptation policy in the White House during the Obama administration, Mr Teicher said he was first introduced to coral farming while working with Eli Africa, an NGO, in Mauritius in 2012. The group had received a grant to do a coral farming project in partnership with the Mauritius Oceanographic Institute.

“It was my first experience of coral reef restoration, and I saw how reefs could be brought back to life, but the current funding model had limitations,” he disclosed. Reliant on donor and grant funding, he realised that only marine research institutes or NGOs would be willing to engage in coral farming, with reef restorations likely to take up to 25-30 years.

The Mauritius project produced 5,000 coral reef pieces before it came to an end, and Mr Teicher said Coral Vita incorporates a completely different approach that allows the production of coral to be “scaled up” in partnership with scientists via “a business model that unlocks the funding”.

While the Government and Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) have hired Coral Vita for its first renovation, he added that hotels, developers and communities in The Bahamas can all contract its services. “Anyone benefiting from the restoration of a reef can hire - from the Government to Lyford Cay and Viva Fortuna and everybody in between,” Mr Teicher added.

He explained that Coral Vita was attracted to Grand Bahama because “of the ecological need and opportunity. It’s estimated that 80 percent of the reefs in The Bahamas are dead, but we can also rebuild them. There’s also an opportunity to test the business model”.

Noting that Coral Vita’s Grand Bahama farm is also serving as a tourist attraction, as well as education facility for students and others, Mr Teicher said the business had already demonstrated its own resilience by rebuilding from Hurricane Dorian’s 17-foot storm surge and surviving the fall-out from the COVID-19 pandemic after it opened in May 2019.

“The Bahamas would not exist without coral reef,” he added. “The limestone under your feet came from a reef..... We’re starting in Grand Bahama, but are very interested to restore reefs throughout The Bahamas. We’re in it for the long haul. We’ll be around for a few years yet....

“I think this is as important as it could be. There’s a real opportunity to create local jobs behind a whole restoration economy that preserves the ecosystems that sustain all of us. There’s a myriad of benefits that this can provide if we scale it up.

“The Bahamas, the Bahamian people and the economy really need healthy ecosystems, and it’s not just a matter of protecting them but creating this whole new Blue Economy, protecting the ecosystems that protect us all and driving jobs and revenue throughout the country.”

Winning The Earthshot Prize will enable Coral Vita’s goal to accelerate its ambitions to “scale up” and realise its dreams to create an international network of coral farms, including deploying the latest technology in coral farming as well as developing funding models to make coral restoration more financially viable for coastal communities.

Comments

ThisIsOurs 1 month, 1 week ago

Good for them. It sounds like theyre foreign investors here(?) Good still, theyre in "The Bahamas", maybe they can inspire some others

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