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Restoring Earth’s Dying Coral Reefs with Gator Halpern
8th July 2019 • Do Well & Do Good • Dorothy Illson
00:00:00 00:33:49

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My guest this week is Gator Halpern. Gator is the founder of coral Vita, a mission-driven company that is working to restore our world’s dying coral reefs. He’s a Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneur, a United Nation’s Young Champion of the Earth, and currently lives and works in the Bahamas on the front lines of coral reef restoration.

His company, Coral Vita, just built the world’s first commercial land-based coral farm for reef restoration. In our conversation you will hear about how Gator first got involved with this issue, why he and his co-founder decided on a for-profit business, and so much more. 

The work Gator and his team are doing is truly phenomenal and I couldn’t be more excited to share his story with you all!


Places to Find Gator:

On Instagram @coralvitareefs

On Facebook @coralvitareefs


Show Notes:

[2:45] minute: What was the mindset around money and success that was instilled in you as a child?

  • Grew up in San Diego with a loving family. 
  • Deep connection to the ocean and nature. Encouraged by his family to find what made him happy and create a life in that. 

[4:30] minute: I know you met your business partner while getting your Masters, what was it that made you go back to school to want to get that degree?

  • Was the best path to be able to research and explore the topics he loved. Allowed him to study while getting his Masters and have the expertise needed to continue after that in a career setting.

[6:00] minute: Why is this coral reef degradation the issue you decided to focus on for your career?

  • It wasn’t the focus until late in his tenure at Yale. A wide range of water based issues were in his sights early on.
  • Coral reefs are a bit of a canary in the coalmine letting us know how quickly effects of climate change are taking place. 

[8:30] minute: For anyone not as aware of this issue, could you give us a brief overview of why coral reef is so important to our planet, and how your restoration process works?

  • Coral reefs are one of the world’s most important environments. They cover .1% of the ocean floor, but house near 25% of the life in the ocean.
  • Fisheries are ravaged when coral reefs go away. 
  • Coral reefs are a coastal protectant, creating a natural sea wall.
  • We’ve lost 50% of coral reefs already, with estimates that 90% will be gone by 2050 at current pace.
  • Coral Vita (his company) is the first to grow corals on land and then take and plant them in the reefs in the ocean.

[14:00] minute: Talk to me about this process that you went through to get this company off the ground, how did you take this goal of restoring coral reefs and turn that in to an actual business?

  • Created the vision while at grad school.
  • A number of great foundations are doing in-water coral farms in small areas around the world. They face limits though, so Gator’s goal was to figure out how to scale it up.
  • Teamed up with some other scientists to create a micro-fragmentation process that allows them to grow coral exponentially faster. 
  • Their farm grows about 12 types of coral at this point. 
  • Cutting edge science is allowing them to create corals that can withstand the temperatures and acidic levels that we project our oceans to be moving towards.

[19:30] minute: Where is the funding coming from for Coral Vita?

  • Commercial company. 
  • Working with shareholders who benefit from the reefs: hotels, cruise lines, dredging companies, governments, insurance companies who insure coastal properties. 
  • Adopt-a-coral program where you can adopt some coral via their website.

[21:30] minute: Tell me about the decision to make Coral Vita a commercial company vs a non-profit, I think that is really great and powerful, for anyone listening who might have interest in attacking a large-scale problem like this from an entrepreneurial perspective, tell us how you went about doing it?

  • Without a commercial industry developing, the issue is too big to be funded by donations and grants. To make the impact that is needed in the next 10 to 15 years there needs to be a lot of capital pushed into the industry.
  • Mission driven company with priority number one being saving as much reef as possible. We will make the returns we want because we are making the impact that we need to.

[24:00] minute: How do you market the business to these funding partners who might not see the urgency for them as it’s more long term negatives for them?

  • Creating a new market, so there is a challenge in education for these people of why it is so important for them to help with the coral reefs. 
  • Some of further along in knowledge and are more low hanging fruit for them that understand the issue and that a response is needed. Eco-tourism space and eco-development. 

[27:50] minute: So Gator, is there hope for our coral reefs? Is it possible to restore them to the place we need it to be?

  • Not every reef is possible to be restored, but if an industry can be created around reef restoration then we can bring many reefs back to life and get them thriving and benefiting us.


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