Coral Reefs are Dying, Can Land-Based Coral Farms Save Them?

June 19, 2019

The world's coral reefs are dying. In Hawaii, where many people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods (yes, we're raising our hands), this is a scary proposition. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Hawaii pegs the annual gross revenue associated with nearshore coral reefs in Hawaii at $800 million. Saving our coral reefs is not the just the right thing to do for the environment, but it's a necessary step to saving the state of Hawaii's economy.

Here are some quick facts that highlight the severity of coral decline:

  • In the past 30 years, the world has lost over 50% of its coral reefs due to overfishing, climate change and pollution.
  • Half of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the most iconic coral reef on the planet, has been destroyed by the phenomenon called coral bleaching, which happens as a result of warmer ocean temperatures, among other things (more on this later).
  • According to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, nearly ALL of the world's reefs will be at risk by 2050.
  • A study published by the USGS in March, 2019, put the value of flood risk reduction provided by U.S. coral reefs at more than 18,000 lives saved and $1.805 billion per year. PER YEAR!

While Hawaii is trying to fight back by creating policies to stop waste water from running into the ocean, educating the public and even banning sunscreens that are deemed harmful to reefs, there's much more work to be done.

Before we get to a solution, let's look at the root cause of what is killing the coral. Many scientists believe climate change is the biggest issue facing coral reefs. Warmer water temperatures and rising acidic levels caused by higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are creating mass coral bleaching events. While pearly white corals may be pretty to look at, you have to understand that these corals are dead. Sadly, mass coral bleaching events are five times more likely to occur today than just 40 years ago.

One company profiled by CNN, Coral Vita, is running a pilot program introducing a new approach to restoring coral reefs. Founded by Sam Teicher and Gator Halpern, last month Coral Vita opened a first-of-its-kind commercial coral farm in the Bahamas. The farm operates using a rather simple process whereby coral is removed from the ocean and broken into tiny pieces. When broken down, the coral actually clones itself and grows back at 50 times the normal rate of traditional, land-based coral nurseries. Once the corals reach maturity, they are planted back into the ocean.

The trick Coral Vita is attempting to pull off is to grow the corals in warmer and more acidic water conditions, thus making them more resistant to the changes our oceans are experiencing prior to being replanted into the ocean.

For this initial Bahamas project, Coral Vita aims to grow 10,000 coral fragments from 10 local species. If the project is successful, the company hopes to expand and build coral farms around the world growing millions of different corals. 

What Coral Vita is working on could be game changing. Restoring depleted coral reefs would be huge. But restoration is just that, restoration. The best solution is to not kill the coral in the first place. Only by stopping over-fishing practices, pollution run-off and reducing carbon emissions can we hope to truly save coral reefs

As Teicher told CNN, "We can replant the forest, but the best thing to do is not cut it down in the first place."

On the Hawaii Ocean Project Lanai Snorkel and Dolphin Tour, you will experience the magic Maui's coral reefs up close. On the tours, we provide reef-safe sunblocks and teach basic ocean conservation tips

By the way, did you know that you can now save $10/person on our Maui Princess Dinner Cruise or a Snorkel Adventure to the island of Lanai? Well you can! Just use the promo code VIP20 after clicking on this link: Hawaii Ocean Project Adventures.

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