The vision that two alumni shared as graduate students for a startup to meaningfully address declining global coral reef health is taking shape on the island of Grand Bahama. The cofounders of Coral Vita, Sam Teicher ’12 B.A., ’15 M.E.M, and Gator Halpern ’15 M.E.M., are opening the world’s first commercial land-based coral farm in the Bahamas. There, they will grow coral up to 50 times faster than in nature by utilizing research from leading coral scientists working with their mission-driven for-profit. Through what is known as “assisted evolution,” they will also enhance the resiliency of corals to help them adapt more quickly to warming and acidifying oceans that threaten coral health.
To launch their pilot farm, Coral Vita has partnered with the Grand Bahama Development Corporation and Grand Bahama Port Authority. They also are receiving significant support from local tourism operators, real estate developers, and the Bahamas’ government, which is eager to find solutions to the widespread loss of the island’s reefs. More than 80% of local reefs have died. These thriving underwater worlds rich in biodiversity are vital to the country’s economy and ecosystem, powering eco-tourism, sustaining critical fisheries, and sheltering coastlines from storm surge. If they are successful in the Bahamas, the cofounders hope to replicate these farms in other coral hotspots around the world.
The timing could not be more urgent. Half of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost to pollution, overfishing, and a phenomenon driven by global warming known as coral bleaching. Arecent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) points to an even more dire future should warming trends continue. The IPCC found that if global warming rises 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, coral reefs will likely decline up to 90% by 2050; if by 2C, 99% of the world’s corals will likely be lost.