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News : Grand Bahama Last Updated: Apr 13, 2018 - 10:20:25 AM

Port & Devco Partner on Inaugural Reef Restoration Initiative
By The Grand Bahama Port Authority
Apr 13, 2018 - 9:52:54 AM

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GBPA Vice Chairman, Sarah St. George discussed the Coral Vita Farm project with Gator Hepburn of Coral Vita and UOB guest at the University of The Bahamas, Sustainable Grand Bahama event last week. (Photo courtesy of UOB)

Grand Bahama, Bahamas – Across the globe, coastal communities have for centuries been protected by coral reefs. These diverse underwater eco-systems not only provide a home for a wealth of marine life but also act as a protection and natural barrier against hurricanes and natural disasters.  Additionally, coral reefs generate up to 30 billion dollars in annual revenue around the globe, with as many as one billion people depending on reefs for their livelihoods.

This also holds true for those living in Grand Bahama, where scores of industries from fishing, diving and tourism all rely on a healthy sea. With this is mind the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and the Grand Bahama Development Company (DEVCO) are pleased to announce their support of this initiative with an international coral reef restoration company, Coral Vita.

“Grand Bahama has endured the many ravages of hurricanes, and so the importance of protecting our natural storm barriers cannot be overstated” said Rupert Hayward, GBPA Director “We jumped at the opportunity to support Coral Vita, not only in raising awareness about the importance of our reefs but to be a part of efforts to oversee the regrowth of miles of coral reefs in and around Grand Bahama.”

Coral Vita co-founder Gator Halpern going over site plans with GBPA Environmental Inspector Olethea Gardiner, & Project Manager Derek Gape. (Photo courtesy of Coral Vita)

Throughout the region and globally, pollution, threats of climate change and destructive fishing practices have threatened to wipe out these valuable marine assets. In The Bahamas alone more than two-thirds of the reefs in Bahamian waters have died since the 1970’s. Globally, it is estimated that some 75% percent of the world’s reefs will be destroyed by the year 2050, which was highlighted in the recent Chasing Coral Netflix series, which featured Grand Bahama’s reef losses.

Since its formation Coral Vita, founded by long time dive enthusiast Sam Teicher and his business partner Gator Halpern, has dedicated its resources to scaling up the science and impact of coral farming.  Speaking last week at the University of The Bahamas’ Sustainable Grand Bahama event, Halpern announced their plans to launch their commercial coral farm on Grand Bahama. The process uses a scalable land-based farming model to accelerate coral growth by up to 50 times faster while enhancing their resiliency to the warming and acidifying ocean conditions that threaten their survival. These methods were developed by Coral Vita’s advisors at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology, and incorporated into Coral Vita’s business model underpin their work to help preserve reefs for future generations.

Coral Vita divers inspect the health of local coral reefs ahead of their planned restoration initiative to be completed in partnership with the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA). (Photo courtesy of Coral Vita)

“I’ve been a diver since I was a kid, so this cause is one that is very personal to me,” explained Teicher. “Outside of the ecological wonder of reefs though, coral reef survival is extremely important for communities around the world, and their loss is a major socio-economic catastrophe” he noted.

“The GBPA and DEVCO are guiding us through the process to launch the farm. We have submitted our Environmental Impact Assessment to GBPA, and soon to the Government to hopefully have our coral farm operational here before the end of summer. Our farm will grow corals to restore reefs, serve as a new eco-tourism attraction, integrate the local community into our project through educational programming, and make the Bahamas a flagship for ecosystem protection, marine technology, and sustainable development.”

Through its partnership, Coral Vita will use land in Freeport to support restoration projects of any size, and by extension paving the way for economic development through a community-based approach which integrates local stakeholders into the initiative.

“Coral reefs are important to our shores, not only for the purpose of tourism attractions, but they provide habitats and shelter for many marine organisms and protect our shorelines from extreme wave actions and storms” noted Olethea Gardiner, GBPA / Environmental Inspector of the Building and Development Services Department.  Gardiner went on to note that the University of The Bahamas will also be involved with the project, teaching future scientists about this process.

“The Coral Vita facility, in addition to reviving the reef systems, is intended to serve as a hands-on learning tool, which we hope will peak the interest of future marine biologists and environmentalists”.

“The Coral Vita project has self-raised $1.5 million from international financers for the construction of their pilot coral farm,” noted Hayward. “If this first-ever commercial coral farm takes off, the company plans to launch a global network of large-scale farms to help preserve coral reefs world-wide.  We are excited be at the forefront of the fight to address this major environmental concern.”

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