A global coalition forging coral reef resilience

By Global Fund for Coral Reefs | May 31, 2024

In April 2024, a network of global coral reef scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) confirmed the fourth global coral bleaching event is underway. As climate change impacts intensify, coral bleaching has become more frequent and severe. This phenomenon has affected coral reefs across every major ocean basin, with some regions experiencing consecutive bleaching events.

Recognising the growing urgency of this situation, the Coral Reef Breakthrough has been established to provide targets and action points for collective action, including: stopping drivers of loss, doubling the area of coral reefs under effective protection, accelerating restoration efforts, and securing $12 billion from public and private sources by 2030 to conserve and restore at least 50% of remaining coral reef ecosystems.

Global Fund for Coral Reefs

Through a Coalition of global, regional, and national partners, the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR) is spearheading efforts to find viable models to enhance sustainable financing for coral reef conservation, restoration, and resilience.

With capitalisation underway, by 2030, the GFCR aims to support over 400 reef positive businesses and sustainable financial mechanisms; the resilience of over 20 million community members and 3 million hectares of coral reefs (representing 20% of the Coral Reef Breakthrough target); and the sustainable financing of 7.5 million hectares of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Hosting both a Grant Fund and Investment Fund, the GFCR portfolio of reef-positive solutions encompasses four impact sectors:

  • Sustainable Ocean Production (fisheries, aquaculture, mariculture)
  • Sustainable Coastal Development (ecotourism, blue and natural coastal infrastructure including reef restoration)
  • Circular Economy and Pollution Management (solid waste management, recycling, wastewater treatment)
  • Financial Mechanisms (Marine Protected Area finance instruments, payment for ecosystem services including blue carbon and reef insurance, debt swaps, and bonds)

GFCR’s investments will aim to leverage $2-3 billion USD in public and private finance for the benefit of coral ecosystems and coastal communities.

Mesoamerican Reef investment

Focused on the most climate-resilient and ecologically significant coral reefs globally, GFCR deploys programming and investments to benefit ‘coral refugia’ sites across 23 countries, including the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR), which spans the coasts of Mexico (in the state of Quintana Roo), Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.

As the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, the MAR is a globally recognised hotspot of marine biodiversity, including endangered marine turtles, over 60 species of corals, and more than 500 known fish species. The reef also provides essential resilience benefits to coastal communities, protecting the coast from severe storms, supporting local food sources, and enabling a variety of core local livelihoods.

However, the MAR faces mounting pressures stemming from a surge of tourism, the proliferation of sargassum, expansive agriculture and aquaculture, and other stressors contributing to ecosystem degradation, exacerbated by the impacts of climate change.

In response to the need for greater protection and resilience-based approaches, the GFCR is funding the MAR+Invest programme led by the MAR Fund. MAR Fund is a private fund with a Board of Directors comprised of international collaborators, experts, the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD), and the in-country funds from each of the MAR countries.

Designed as a 10-year blended finance vehicle, the MAR+Invest programme operates across the four countries of the Mesoamerican Reef and is implemented through a strategic alliance of organisations including the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature/Sureste Sostenible, Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative, and New Ventures/VIWALA.

Now in its incubation and growth stage, the MAR+Invest partners are building a regional portfolio of market-based solutions that address a range of local, anthropogenic threats facing the MAR. These efforts aim to bolster the resilience of coastal communities and contribute to mitigate the challenges faced by the reef ecosystem. Key 2030 programme targets include: 60,000 hectares of coral reefs under improved management;  $60 million USD leveraged in returns, private investment, and co-finance; and 3 million community members with increased resilience thanks to a healthier reef.

Within the growing programme pipeline, a variety of enterprises and projects range from early-stage growth to performance-based expansion, including:

  • Carbonwave: Carbonwave helps address the proliferation of sargassum, a seaweed once confined to specific regions of the Atlantic but has now overwhelmed Caribbean beach ecosystems. This seaweed poses multifaceted threats, releasing methane into the atmosphere and heavy metals into the groundwater, disrupting tourism, as well as damaging vital habitats like seagrass beds, mangrove swamps, and coral reefs. Carbonwave transforms sargassum into valuable materials and products, harnessing its potential to mitigate climate change. In 2023, the GFCR Investment Fund committed up to $6 million USD to Carbonwave, strengthening and growing its reef-positive model for upcycling the overabundance of sargassum.
  • Royal Mayan Shrimp Farm: The Royal Mayan Shrimp Farm (RMSF) is a 320 acres shrimp farm located in Belize which produces over 3.0 million lbs of shrimp annually and pioneers the Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) which curtails wastewater and runoff release from the aquaculture site, mitigating nutrient pollution that jeopardises seagrass cover and fuels the proliferation of fleshy macroalgae on coral reefs. Greater investment into RMSF has the potential to transform the business to a zero effluence model, directly addressing the threats posed by current wastewater practices to the MAR. MAR+Invest supports this initiative by providing financial guidance to attract capital and to ensure its implementation and operation.
  • King Crab Aquaculture: As an early-stage project with immense potential for bankability, growth, and replication, MAR+Invest is supporting the breeding of Caribbean King Crabs for subsequent introduction onto coral reefs affected by the excessive growth of macroalgae in the Coastal and Marine Protected Areas (CMPAs) of the MAR. Scientists found that overgrown algae can decrease coral growth rates by about 37 percent and produce other detrimental effects. In this project, the King Crab feeds on macroalgae, mitigating its growth without causing harm to corals. The project also has the potential to engage fishermen in reef stewardship as well as diversifying their income. MAR+Invest supports research and development of the project, with the aim of defining and improving the production method for the King Crab in the MAR.

The wider range of MAR+Invest pipeline projects and enterprises span sustainable tourism, water monitoring technology, sargassum management, finance for marine protected areas, as well as research opportunities.

Investing in the future of reefs

Securing a future where coral reefs are healthy and resilient demands the combined need for climate action and resilience-focused conservation. Central to ensuring bleaching resistance, recovery, and long-term viability is the prioritisation of interventions targeting local threats to identified coral sites which display the potential for resilience to climate change impacts.

The GFCR-supported programme in the MAR region represents a pivotal part of the GFCR’s wider global portfolio. By scaling up its operations and partnerships, the GFCR aims to create a more resilient future for coral reefs globally, catalysing sustainable conservation efforts and ensuring the long-term health of these vital underwater ecosystems.

With the third UN Ocean Conference now on the horizon, we must ensure a turning point where collective action justifies continued hope for coral reefs. Through the GFCR, states, philanthropies and the private sector have the opportunity to invest and implement at scale to safeguard their future existence.

 

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