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ReefVitalize drives ecosystem regeneration and empowers local stakeholders through collaborative, resort-based citizen science and coral restoration. To be specific, ReefVitalize offers coral frame-building activities for tourists in the Caribbean to drive the restoration of coral reefs. For this, ReefVitalize acts as a middleman for various stakeholders. By doing so, several SDGs are getting addressed e.g., SDG 14 Life under water, SDG 8 Decent work and economic growth, SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and production, and SDG 13 Climate Action.
First of all, ReefVitalize creates exclusive partnerships between coral restoration NGOs and hotels and resorts. Hotels and resorts often lack experience and knowledge regarding coral restoration – this is where ReefVitalize steps in. Furthermore, NGOs help manage the coral gardens and therefore get the opportunity to grow and receive more awareness.
Altogether, service is provided to the end customers who are paying for activities related to coral restoration. Potential customers are all tourists interested in coral reefs, as well as scuba divers and snorkelers. In addition, Reefvitalize cooperates with local dive stores, guides, and fishermen so that the local community benefits from the tourism activities. By including the local people and businesses, the community’s right to land and resources is respected, which also contributes to SDG 11. Furthermore, it is a personal concern of the founder that not only ReefVitalize as an international company receives the profits, but also the local companies and people by following a co-owned company design. Also, including local people in the business is intended to increase the acceptance of the coral projects.
The startup pursues a hybrid business model, which means that, on the one hand, tourists are paying for the activities, and on the other hand, sponsors can financially support ReefVitalize. The main activity of ReefVitalize is the coral frame building activity where a coral frame is getting built by the tourists, corals get attached to it, and then the frame is exposed to the reef. After six months to one year, the corals are getting exposed to the wild reef. The corals get taken off, and the frame can get reused for new corals, which means that there is a consistent cycle of taking young corals, growing them and moving them out to wild reefs. This is helping restore local ecosystems and entire reefs.
There are several other activities like snorkeling in the coral nursery, scuba diving and out planting corals, as well as educational talks by the staff. The educational part of the business model is intended to help create a self-sufficient community that knows about the impact of restoring coral reefs e.g. fishermen can help repopulate species that are in decline.
ReefVitalize was founded in 2020, but due to Covid-19, operations were minimal until 2022. So far, the startup operates on two islands – the US Virgin Islands and Barbados.
Reefvitalize business model
Brenna Bales, the founder of ReefVitalize itself, was working on several coral restoration projects before founding the startup. One of her main points is that existing projects do not involve local people enough and that profits generated do not stay on the respective islands.
She clarifies this point in the quote:
“When I worked in the Maldives, I was an American with a degree being hired to manage local resources in a place that I had never been before, I didn't have any knowledge about. I didn't have any cultural connection to this place, but I was the one being paid to manage the resources. And that didn't really sit right with me always.”
To give back something to the local community, Brenna aims to include local fishermen, dive shops and more in her business model. By including the local community and people, the principle of regeneration “honoring place and community” can get addressed:
“I made sure to incorporate into my business model that in each location where we have resort programs, someone local from these islands is hired to manage the coral gardens and the activities for the guests. So, there are a lot of intelligent people on islands with cultural knowledge and they may not have a university degree, but they have a better appreciation, understanding of that marine ecosystem because their families or themselves they've lived there for could be decades or even hundreds of years. Hiring them is important to us to not only make sure that the guests (…) are getting an authentic experience”
“So, you know, going to these communities and finding the individuals who know about these issues and are passionate about them and having them be the stewards of their own environment and teaching their own communities. Because, you know, as an outsider coming in and telling locals about their reefs, it's not listened to. So if you find the people who are passionate and knowledgeable to teach their own communities, it goes so much further.“
Restoring the coral reefs can also help improve the health of the whole ecosystem. Brenna explains:
“You can see in other places when one reef is restored, it actually helps the entire island because marine animals are so transitory, they're coming in and out of places, most of them well, not most of them, but many of them are not just stationary, they're constantly moving. So these healthier animals benefit. They go back to their homes, they come back, and it's just a whole cycle of regeneration.”
There are also several social aspects of regeneration getting addressed by ReefVitalize:
“And then on the social side of things, like I mentioned earlier, many in the tourism industry, many foreign tourism companies.... they have come into these developing island nations and bulldozed natural ecosystems. They bring in foreign workers. I mean, that was me in the Maldives. I was brought in by a foreign resort as a foreign worker. And, you know, they pay me from the tourists giving them money. And it never even stays on the island. So here we all are, benefiting from this ecosystem. But none of it's actually going back to the people who most heavily depend on it. So, in our model, and I'm still kind of exploring this a little bit, the idea of a co-op. So an organization that's co-owned by many people on the island. And the profits completely stay in this. In this ecosystem.”
Also, the environmental aspects are important to consider:
“Our oceans absorb insane amounts of carbon and heat. They produce more oxygen than all of our rainforests combined and together. If we heal them, then it will be better for our planet and our climate.”
The main impact of ReefVitalize’s business and innovation lies in ecosystem regeneration and the empowerment of local stakeholders.
As ReefVitalize grows and plants out corals, the most apparent impact is the restoration of coral reefs. For one year, corals are cultivated in the resorts’ coral gardens until they are put into the wild, ie., corals are grown to replace already damaged or dead corals.
Brenna Bales, the founder of ReefVitalize, graduated in marine biology in 2019 and has worked on building and developing a coral frame that can quickly be built by tourists to engage them in coral restoration activities from the beginning. Furthermore, she has already collected various data on its progress and is constantly improving her particles from a scientific point of view.
Furthermore, ReefVitalize aims to empower local stakeholders. Inhabitants of Barbados and the US Virgin Island, who have lived on those islands for generations, are deeply connected with the sea. ReefVitalize wants to share its knowledge about corals and restoration practices to further enable those people to protect and preserve their environment. As corals are mainly threatened by overfishing and pollution, informing is a significant part of preservation. Furthermore, professional training for local workers is offered- Those certified trainers then will educate tourists during “coral restoration activities,” such as building the coral frame or scuba diving or snorkeling while freeing the corals that have been grown for a year.
Therefore, the innovation's impact can be summarized by the increased number of replaced corals to restore coral reefs and increased awareness and information about the causes of destruction, its impact, and how to restore the ecosystem.
As the innovation aims to regenerate our ecosystem and empower local stakeholders, the business model is designed as a hybrid business model to achieve both.
ReefVitalize understands itself as a middleman between various stakeholders. While ReefVitalize offers experiences and activities to tourists, they pay a fee for those activities. Interested tourists can engage in coral restoration classes and activities. For a small fee of $2,99, tourists learn, under trained supervision, how to build the coral frames and at the end of each class, several frames are constructed. At the same time, the guide will educate the tourists on coral reefs, environmental conditions and how restoration takes place. Another revenue stream of ReefVitalize is snorkeling and scuba diving. On the one hand, tourists can explore the beauty of the sea and also plant some grown corals out into the wild. With charges starting at $40/hour, those activities are the primary customer base revenue stream.
Secondly, Hotels and Resorts are also the main stakeholder. ReefVitalize offers expertise and a certain percentage of revenue to the resort, which then makes an upfront investment of $25.000, for ReefVitalize to be able to produce and supply the equipment and educate and train local staff. Furthermore, ReefVitalize collaborates with sponsors and coral restoration NGS to receive sponsorship to fund and scale coral gardens and restoration actives and manage the gardens, respectively. Lastly, local businesses such as local fishermen, dive shops, or guides are included in the hybrid business model. While those businesses provide workforces and resources, ReefVitalize creates workplaces and hires those local people to provide a livelihood for locals.
First, ReefVitalize's local partners receive either a payment or a share of the company's profits. Often the partners are local fishermen, who thereby receive a second source of income and thus become more independent of fluctuating fish stocks. Overall, this also improves the prosperity of the respective region. Through this effect, the eighth sustainable development goal "Decent work and economic growth" is also adequately addressed.
On the other hand, the partners, employees and customers of ReefVitalize are trained. They learn why they depend on this underwater ecosystem, what factors influence it and how they can contribute to its regeneration. Ultimately, it creates awareness for the conservation of coral reefs and encourages the local community to become more sustainable, one step at a time. This also addresses the eleventh sustainable development goal "Sustainable cities and communities".
The environment is improved in several ways through ReefVitalize's business model. At the core of the business model is the regeneration of coral reefs. Artificially created reefs are grown using steel cages and then released into existing dying reefs to revive them. As a result, the fish population also increases, since many fish species depend on these coral reefs, especially at the beginning of their lives, for example, to hide from predators. Ultimately, this also improves the biodiversity of the ecosystem. The preservation and regeneration of coral reefs is also an essential contribution to counteract climate change and addresses sustainable development goal 13, since a significant portion of oxygen production and carbon dioxide storage takes place underwater in corals and seagrass.
Brenna Bales, Founder
ReefVitalize drives ecosystem regeneration and empowers local stakeholders through collaborative, resort-based citizen science and coral restoration.
Specifically, ReefVitalize is a coral restoration experience for hotel and resort guests to participate directly in conservation activities and aid regenerative ecological efforts. It is creating a scalable, accessible, and profitable model for ecosystem regeneration.