- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Investigates the effect of the global financial system and/or the monetary system in fostering a sustainable economy.
- Investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-market system.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.
In October 2011, Brett Howell joined Georgia Aquarium as the Walker Conservation Fellow with funding from the Alex C. Walker Foundation, the first-ever conservation fellowship for the Aquarium. The project objective, as defined in the grant application, was to:
• Perform all of the steps required to develop a Marine Payment for Ecosystem Services (MPES) scheme in the Upper Florida Keys, allowing reef restoration activities to become financially self-sustaining. This model has the potential to be replicated in the competitive marketplace restoring reefs to their former conditions as havens of biodiversity. The Fellow will work with state and local authorities, non-profit organizations (NGOs), area businesses and other interested parties to perform an MPES feasibility assessment for coral restoration in the Florida Keys.
"When the coral shrinks, the economy sinks." - Ms. Nora Williams, Mayor Monroe County, FL Keys.
Coral Restoration Display at the Georgia Aquarium with Brett Howell describing the exhibit.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS -
Basic enabling regulations and rights are required if a market is to be developed around coral reef restoration (i.e. exclusivity, security and enforcement). While the main objective was to pilot test a market-based approach to coral restoration in Florida, within the first year of the project it became clear that testing the creation of a conservation market in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would not be feasible. As a result, international project demonstration sites were evaluated beginning in Summer 2012, including Bonaire, Cuba and Jamaica. United States federal and state rules and regulations, including the Public Trust Doctrine, specifically guarantee the right of unlimited access and therefore limit the ability to establish clear property rights or oceans zones required to create economic incentives for restoring corals. However, NOAA is currently conducting a three year review process for FKNMS, which may make it feasible to test market-based approaches to coral reef restoration. Their effort, which concludes in 2015, involves evaluating boundaries and regulations by working with an extensive list of stakeholders. Action cannot be taken until NOAA makes final decisions about new regulations and boundaries. With less than five percent coral cover remaining in much of FKNMS, the time for NOAA to act is now.
After two years of project work, several fundamental constraints have been identified that currently limit the ability to test market-based solutions to coral reef restoration:
• The conditions that have enabled the success of market-based approaches to terrestrial conservation (e.g. property rights, zoning, and tax incentives) do not exist in the marine environment. The majority of countries claim coral reefs and other natural marine assets for the benefit of their people (usually through some trust mechanism) and have been unwilling to restrict access to these areas, a precursor for market development.
• Despite controlling the marine environment for their own interests, governments have not adequately invested in protecting, enforcing and actively restoring assets held in trust for their people. Some NGOs, such as The Nature Conservancy (TNC), CRF, and Mote and Marine Laboratory, among others, have had limited success at winning grants and private donor dollars to conduct marine restoration work, but even these organizations have not had the ability to subsequently protect the natural assets (e.g. coral reefs, oyster reefs, seagrasses, etc.) that they have rebuilt.
• The ability to restore reefs by propagating and outplanting Elkhorn and Staghorn coral “frags” or “nubbins” (the two primary architectural corals on Caribbean reefs) has been demonstrated in the short-term. However, the success rates of outplanted corals have not yet been scientifically established in peer-reviewed papers. It is also unknown if restoring coral results in a functional increase of diversity or reef structure. This lack of scientific validation makes the business case for coral restoration very difficult to establish.
• A consistent methodology for determining Return on Investment (ROI) / Net Present Value (NPV) for reef restoration is currently difficult to apply. Some nurseries use volunteers or donated products and do not value the time or financial contributions, while others rely on professionally paid staff and must pay for nursery supplies. In addition, given competition between nursery operators/ NGOs, this data has been very difficult to obtain, and it is impossible to do financial modeling without the information.
• There must be an alignment between policy, science and finance for ecosystem markets to work. At present, no finance mechanism allows the business risk of investing in coral nurseries and outplanting to be insured against loss (e.g. from a hurricane, sea surface temperature change, etc.).
Despite the inability to test an MPES, the Fellowship significantly advanced the conversation about how to make markets for coral reef restoration a viable alternative to traditional conservation finance approaches.
PROJECT SUCCESSES -
Despite the constraints that limited the ability to pilot an MPES, the Walker Conservation Fellow was still able to develop significant project deliverables, working with Georgia Aquarium and several unofficial partners:
• Created a broad network of government leaders, NGO managers, economists, coral scientists, authors, and business executives to generate options for making ecosystem restoration financially self-sufficient.
• Built a team of 3 interns, 8 students and 2 volunteers contributing more than 2,000 hours to leverage limited funds. This level of intern/volunteer effort equals 97% of one full-time equivalent (FTE) staff member working for one year on the project. Team deliverables include legal white papers “Private Property Rights on Coral Reefs in the State of Florida” and “Research on Private Marine Protection” and MPES case studies.
• In February 2012, co-directed “Market Approaches to Coral Reef Restoration” Workshop, bringing together 30 professionals from conservation, business, science, and government to discuss market-based conservation programs for marine resources. The project was highlighted by Nature in the article “Conservation meets capitalism in Florida” 2/23/12 and PERC Reports “The Underwater Enviropreneur,” Spring 2012.
• In March 2012, Georgia Aquarium created a new educational display about the partnership with CRF and the Alex C. Walker Foundation. The display includes a short video showing CRF’s coral nursery in Florida.
• In June 2012, served as the lead author for “Comment on Regulations and Zoning Scheme for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary,” a 9-page document endorsed by 26 organizations/individuals supporting market-based strategies that would provide long-term financial resources to support coral restoration and change the status quo of marine resource management approaches.
• In August 2012, visited Bonaire with the Alex C. Walker Foundation to evaluate Bonaire’s “Nature Fee” for SCUBA divers as a model for Florida Keys.
• In October 2012, at the invitation of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), presented lessons learned from project work in Florida and met with Cuba’s leading coral reef ecologists about coral loss during the IX Congress on Marine Sciences MarCuba 2012.
• In November 2012 and January 2013, as part of the Caribbean Coastal Communities Small Grants Program funded by Counterpart International, visited Jamaica to work with project partners Oracabessa Foundation and Seascape Caribbean to design and implement a plan to earn sustainable income from restoration of fish sanctuary and surrounding coral reefs.
• In January 2013, published the report “Closing the Coral Commons to Support Reef Restoration in Florida” as part of Conservation Leadership Council.
• In March 2013, delivered the final report for Jamaica Caribbean Coastal Communities Small Grants Program to project partners Oracabessa Foundation and Seascape Caribbean.
• In April 2013, hosted a workshop with 10 collaborators to determine project next steps in Caribbean island nations since a pilot test of a coral restoration market in Florida is not feasible.
• Throughout Fellowship, led 20 seminars about coral markets, educating approximately 200 high school, college and graduate students and approximately 400 professionals in Colorado, Connecticut, Cuba, Florida, Georgia, Montana, and Washington D.C. about the project.
• Worked with Gulf of Maine Research Institute to develop a pilot program for using conservation finance to fund more environmentally friendly fishing gear, which also significantly reduces the amount of fuel used. This project is separately funded by the Alex C. Walker Foundation. Coastal Enterprises Inc. is managing the loans with Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s research program to put new gear on boats.
In addition, as a result of project efforts, it is possible that NOAA will consider some market-based solutions for coral reef restoration in Florida, but their findings will not be released until 2015. Unfortunately, NOAA is unwilling to consider pilot tests beforehand to help inform their decision-making process.
Barren area of Molasses Reef where coral has died. Coral death is attributed to a number of factors including, overfishing, inadequately treated wastewater discharges, acidification due to rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, climate change, and breakage from boat traffic and dive activity. Without living coral, reefs support far fewer fish, and as they erode, no longer serve as barriers to coastal storms.
Divers planting coral on restored area of Molasses Reef. For coral to recover, replanting will have to be extensive enough to reestablish successful mass spawning. The GA Aquarium is working with the Coral Reef Foundation and other partners to develop a sustainable payment program funding reef restoration.
1: Economic imbalances- Reefs are free, causing challenges such as exploitation due to a lack of reef-related property rights. We strive to place a value on reefs, ending the economic imbalance.
2: Effects of the global financial system-An MPES scheme has not yet been widely tested or implemented. If one can be developed for coral reefs, it would help solidify a new financial transaction in the global financial system.
3: Causes tending to destroy or impair the free enterprise system-Since reefs are currently open access free systems, they are only valued based on what can be extracted from them. No value is placed on the broader biodiversity. We strive to create a value for reef biodiversity so that free enterprise mechanisms are not impaired.
4: Market based solutions- We are exploring ways to transition reef restoration from a NGO activity to a free market activity with financial incentives to encourage private enterprise to conduct and support active reef management activities.
The project began with a regional focus on developing an MPES scheme in the Upper Florida Keys, allowing reef restoration activities to become financially self-sustaining. Our long-term goal was to create a replicable MPES model and business case, becoming a “trendsetter” in the process, allowing for active management of degraded reefs anywhere in the world that can be tailored to fit local environmental, economic, social and political conditions. Given the current state of corals worldwide, it is critically important to establish a replicable model to protect keystone coral species against total loss from uncontrollable events such as tsunamis, hurricanes, coral bleaching, etc., a risk if all restoration work solely focuses on one geographic region (e.g. the Florida Keys).
• Amplify Georgia Aquarium’s Tropical Diver display to inform guests about the importance of protecting and restoring coral, based upon the work of the project partner, Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF).
• Share the Fellow’s work through educational programs for school students and through a blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, and other educational components of Georgia Aquarium.
(Check sent: 7/5/2011)
(Check sent: 11/25/2011)
(Check sent: 8/5/2011)