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September 2021    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 47, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Insuring The Local Reef: Is this the Future of Conservation?

from the September, 2021 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Across the world, valuable coastal assets varying from luxury hotels to fishing villages, from roads to power lines, and from shopping centers to beach bars, are all protected from the ocean storms and waves by coral reefs. In the U.S. alone, coral reefs provide flood protection to more than $1.8 billion of coastal infrastructure and economic activity. And that doesn't even take into account the appeal that reefs hold for visitors. A recent study by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) scientists found that coral reef tourism annually generates $36 billion globally. So it seems to make sense for those who might be affected to buy insurance for a local reef, which is exactly what the Mexican fishing town of Puerto Morelos has done. (TNC is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.)

To confront this threat in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, various stakeholders -- the state government, hotel owners, TNC and The National Parks Commission (CONANP) -- have come together to pilot an innovative conservation strategy to build Post Storm Response Capacity: the Reef Brigades. Their work is paid for by a one-year parametric insurance policy, a kind of insurance in which the policy is triggered not by financial losses, but when a specified set of conditions are met.

Normally shielded by part of the Mesoamerican reef system, the town was badly battered by Hurricane Delta's winds in March of this year. After the storm, 30 "Guardians of the Reef" worked for 12 hours each day, over six weeks, clearing debris and re-rooting and reattaching almost 9,000 fragments to damaged coral colonies.

The Guardians' work was enabled by a pioneering collaboration to save the reef and the economy it supports. This 100-mile stretch of the Mesoamerican Reef is the world's first natural asset protected by an insurance policy. Successfully tested by Hurricane Delta, the policy provided a fast cash injection of around $800,000 for reef repair after a storm. Time is of the essence: Without quick restoration, coral colonies can die within a few weeks.

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