With coral reefs vanishing at twice the rate of rainforests, Gator understands the need to build a profitable business around coral restoration. Today, Coral Vita has two revenue streams. On the Grand Bahama, the coral farm is designed as a tourist attraction, and visitors can pay to be part of an adopt-a-coral program. In addition, funding also comes from resorts and businesses that benefit from preserving coral reefs near their properties.
In the last part of our interview, Gator shares why aligning sustainability with profitability is necessary to restore the reefs, sustain the economy, and preserve our planet.
Coral Vita is a for-profit company, not an NGO, not a charity, not a GoFundMe. But you are doing charitable things. Why did you set this up as a business?
We built a business model around reef restoration very intentionally. From our perspective, we see that 50% of the world’s reefs have already died. By mid-century, we project over 90% of reefs will be dead.
Reef degradation is an enormous global issue. In order to make a significant difference and keep the world’s coral reefs alive for generations to come, there has to be an industry around reef restoration. We need stakeholders to invest in reef restoration, and it’s an incredibly valuable thing for them to invest in. There is a lot of economic benefit generated by these reefs.
Talk to me about that value. Who’s your customer base and what are you selling?
We sell reef restoration to any stakeholder who benefits from having a healthy reef. On a small scale, that could be resorts, hotels, developers, or cruise lines. On a larger scale, it could be governments, international development agencies, large corporations, or the insurance industry that benefits from the reef’s coastal protection.
Because the reefs act as a barrier against big waves from storms?
Exactly. Reefs are a natural sea wall. The best sea wall that has ever been built on earth is built out of coral. During storm surges and hurricanes, waves will actually break on coral instead of breaking on land. But when the coral reef dies, those waves erode the land and devastate communities.
It seems like you could have a nice Mafioso type of business. [Laughing] Approach a coastal resort development and say, “That’s a nice resort you got. It would be a shame if something happened to it.”
What do you think about the concept of balance between business growth and a positive environmental impact? It seems it’s possible, but there are cases where it isn’t?
[Laughing] Well, sadly, things are already happening in these communities. On the island we work on, Grand Bahama, the largest resort and casino shut down due to hurricane damage. The government also had to build a massive sea wall on the beach because a road washed away from erosion. These damages can partially be contributed to the degradation of the reef offshore.
Business often comes at the cost of the environment, but I think this is detrimental to both realms. If businesses ignore the environmental impact of their work, the future of business in general will be less profitable and more difficult in our degraded environment. Climate change is happening so fast, and the power of business and technology is absolutely necessary to create a more sustainable economy. We just have to choose to value that impact.