Scientists have been sounding the alarm over the state of the world’s coral reefs for several decades now. In the past 30 years alone, nearly 50% of these vital ecosystems have been lost in large part due to global warming.
About 90% of the excess energy that accumulates in Earth’s atmosphere from greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans, which has led to a doubling in the number of marine heatwaves mainly between 2006 and 2015 and widespread coral bleaching and reef degradation. The United Nations warns that a warming of 1.5°C threatens to destroy 70% to 90% of coral reefs, and 2°C would result in nearly 100% loss.
Restoring the coral reefs and lagoons of the Mesoamerican Reef System is the goal of Reef Aquaculture Conservancy AC, an internationally registered, non-governmental organization based in Mexico that received a grant in 2022 from Scotiabank’s Net Zero Research Fund. The funding will allow the organization to build carbon credits through restoring mangroves and seagrasses and use those credits to finance restoring the reefs. The Mesoamerican Reef, which extends from the northern tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to the Bay Islands in northern Honduras, is the world’s second largest after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
“These biodiverse ecosystems around the world are invaluable. They provide jobs and food for billions of people, are the first line of defence against shoreline erosion and catastrophic damage to cities and homes from hurricanes and storms, and their associated ecosystems such as seagrass meadows, seaweeds, and mangroves capture carbon better than terrestrial ecosystems, helping stay the effects of global warming,” says Guillermo Corona, President and Scientific Advisor at Reef Aquaculture Conservancy.
Photo: Seaweed cleanup on the beach
Credit: Claudia Padilla
They also provide food additives, nutritional supplements, enzymes, cosmetics, and medicines against cancers, viruses, and cardiovascular diseases, among others, said Corona, who has a Doctorate in Biological Sciences.
Reef Aquaculture Conservancy is one of 10 organizations to receive a grant in 2022 from Scotiabank’s 10-year, $10-million Net Zero Research Fund (NZRF). The fund was set up in 2021 as part of Scotiabank’s Climate Commitments to distribute $1 million annually in one-time grants across organizations furthering research for positive environmental outcomes.
Mexico was among the 188 countries to sign a landmark agreement to guide global action on nature through to 2030 at The United Nations Biodiversity Conference COP15 last December. That agreement aims to protect 30% of Earth’s lands, oceans, coastal areas, and inland waters, but its success will depend on how rapidly measures to halt and reverse nature loss are implemented.
“International Sustainable Initiatives, such as the Kunming-Montreal Framework, are a strong motivation and support to push forward tangible actions and build a better future for the current and future generations on Earth,” Corona said.
Banks such as Scotiabank also play a key role in the transition to a net-zero economy, working with clients to assist in financing and supporting their transition plans, while also reducing our own operational emissions, Kim Brand, Vice President & Global Head, Sustainability at Scotiabank said.
These biodiverse ecosystems around the world are invaluable. They provide jobs and food for billions of people, … and their associated ecosystems such as seagrass meadows, seaweeds, and mangroves capture carbon better than terrestrial ecosystems, helping stay the effects of global warming.”
“We also recognize that mitigating climate risk and advancing the transition to net-zero requires collaboration across multiple sectors of the economy. This is why, through Scotiabank’s Net-Zero Research Fund, we are committed to helping enable leading Canadian and international think tanks and academic institutions to drive positive environmental action through their research,” she said.
“We are proud to contribute to and empower organizations, such as Reef Aquaculture Conservancy, that are advancing research and our understanding of the potential for the recovery and rehabilitation of biodiversity in the vital ocean ecosystems in our world.”
The grant from the Net Zero Research Fund is being used to launch “Mesoamerican coastal decarbonization efforts: An Innovative, integral, and ecosystem approach,” the conservancy’s first Blue Ocean Credits Program (BOCP) project. BOCP enables organizations to get carbon and biodiversity credits for restoring mangroves and seagrasses, which then can be used to finance the rehabilitation of coral reefs.
In Mexico, the development of the technology, financial mechanisms, and related businesses needed to rehabilitate coral reefs is still in its infancy, Corona said. That provides opportunity to apply new nature-based financial strategies that are emerging worldwide, he added.
Reef Aquaculture’s project aims to protect and rehabilitate the Mesoamerican Reef System through three avenues and measure their impact over three years. It will acquire carbon and biodiversity credits by setting up a pilot plant with an energy-efficient furnace to produce agricultural products such as biochar (used to reduce soil acidity), biofertilizers, and alternative proteins from sargassum, and through the conservation and rehabilitation of dunes, mangroves, and seagrass. Those credits will be used to install up to seven Integrated Multitrophic AragoReef Systems modules (IMARS) in the Puerto Morelos coral reef by October. For more than a decade, IMARS — 3D designed and generated, calcium carbonate structures — have been used by other countries to increase the population of colonizing organisms, creating refuge environments for fish, molluscs and crustaceans.
Photo: A researcher checks on an installed 3D generated, calcium carbonate reef structure.
Credit: Guillermo Corona
Tourists and locals benefiting from the reefs can help, too, Corona noted. “One of the main things you can do is participate in sustainable, conservation projects,” he said, citing a project in the Bahamas, where tourists pay US$50 to place a piece of AragoReef while snorkeling. It’s a business model he would like to see replicated throughout the Caribbean.
He also recommends buying certified, sustainable seafood and fish, and choosing alternatives to plastics, which often end up in the oceans. “Now, I’m diving around Singapore and I’m seeing disposable masks and COVID tests next to the coral reefs. If you can support bioplastic or another sustainable alternative, it would be great,” he said.
Corona is currently in Singapore to build an international network of investors and technical leaders to help the conservancy expand its projects to Southeast Asia.
“The Net Zero Research Fund is an international reference for decarbonization projects and provides an incentive to develop new sustainable business ideas for the communities and coastal ecosystems,” he said.
The call for submissions for the 2023 Net Zero Research Fund recently closed, but applicants can prepare to submit a proposal for next year (expected in Spring 2024). If you would like to receive more information about Scotiabank’s Net-Zero Research Fund, please contact email@example.com