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Non-Profit Spotlights

The Coral Reef Alliance and OneReef are hard at work protecting our planet’s coral reefs.

By Amy Nelson and Kirsten Nilsen

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Coral Reef Alliance

The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) was founded in 1994 to galvanize the dive community to protect coral reefs. Over the years, they have expanded their efforts beyond educating divers; they now work directly with local communities at project sites around the world to implement coral reef conservation initiatives. CORAL’s mission is “to unite communities to save coral reefs.”

CORAL has made a tremendous impact in the field of coral preservation through its Coral Reef Sustainable Destinations (CRSD) approach. The holistic CRSD model bolsters a community’s ability to effectively preserve and manage its own coral reef resources. The CRSD model builds reef resilience through six interrelated strategies: promoting sustainable business practices; fostering conservation alliances; developing sustainable financing; reducing local reef threats; implementing effective management of marine protected areas; and creating community benefits.

Using this approach, CORAL works to save coral reef ecosystems and the communities that depend on them, while ensuring that these benefits will continue long into the future. Several of the tools that CORAL uses to implement this strategy are:

Microgrants. CORAL issues grants to local partners to support efforts to build reef resiliency. This generates immediate and positive impacts on the health of the coral reefs worldwide.

Ongoing Support for MPAs. Resilient reefs are better able to combat large-scale threats of global warming and climate change. CORAL promotes MPA management and effectiveness through MPA gap analysis studies, the development of MPA management plans, ocean zoning assistance and MPA business planning.

Awareness & Outreach. In addition to producing print and electronic newsletters and a variety of outreach initiatives, CORAL maintains an on-line library of resources.

CORAL’s primary objective is to align social, cultural, and economic interests with coral reef health.  In this, residents are able to see the long-term benefits for their livelihood as well as their ecosystems.  As CORAL’s executive director Michael Webster affirms, “Ultimately, the health of the coral reef and the health and well-being of the community are linked.  Our goal is to foster that relationship for the betterment of both.”

CORAL has focused its preservation efforts in areas with a strong presence of marine tourism, where the link between preservation and economic benefit to the reef community can be clearly demonstrated.  When reefs are healthy, they increase the attraction for divers and tourists.  Currently CORAL operates projects in Mexico, Honduras, Hawaii, Fiji, and Indonesia.

An example of CORAL’s success in this strategy is their work in the Kubulau District of Fiji.  CORAL was invited to work in this region in 2001 by the 11 villages comprising the district as it struggled with how to effectively manage its local marine protected area, the Namena Marine Reserve.  Unsustainable tourism practices such as anchor damage, overfishing, and illegal poaching were taking a toll on the ecosystem.

While the community had originally established this protected area, they wanted to develop the resources and capacity to better manage it. With CORAL’s guidance, community leaders developed a transparent and successful user fee system; revenue from dive tags now fund management activities within the reserve and projects chosen by the community. As a result of building conservation partnerships between tourism providers and the Kubulau District, 130 children in the community are now attending school on scholarships provided by coral reef conservation.

We’re proud to shine Leaf Litter’s non-profit spotlight on the Coral Reef Alliance and applaud their efforts to save and protect the planet’s coral reefs. For more information on how you can further CORAL’s efforts, please visit their web site.


Not everyone’s career is jump-started by a phone call from a Palauan chief.  But that’s exactly how Chris LaFranchi, the founder of OneReef, launched his organization’s mission to reverse coral reef decline by connecting reef communities with coral reef investors.

After a participating as a Rainer-Arnhold Fellow with the Mulago Foundation, LaFranchi had a vision for a scalable entrepreneurial model that would provide local communities the resources to protect and monitor their reefs, and investors the opportunity to contribute reef preservation efforts. The chief in Pulau had heard of LaFranchi’s idea and called to invite OneReef to put this model to the test.

Coral reefs are in crisis. LaFranchi asserts that “the next twenty five to fifty years are critical,” because coral reefs must either adapt to their new climate or we’re likely to see severe geographic contraction and loss of direct benefits reefs provide to people. But coral reefs cannot adapt to the rapid rate of climate change unless we remove the immediate stressors to them: unauthorized fishing, land-based pollution, and sedimentation. When the human pressures are removed, says LaFranchi, it has been shown that reefs frequently recover and grow resilient to climate change.

LaFranchi explains that Pacific Islanders are creating a renaissance of community-based management. It is increasingly well known among small island developing states that coral reef recovery and resilience to climate change is possible. People living in and around those reefs face the enormous challenge of effecting change to stop reef decline, and then implementing measures to monitor preservation. The difficulty is that they do not have the resources necessary to protect their reefs, even with existing NGO and governmental assistance. Effective and precautionary reef management requires strong community support in the form of technical inputs, targeted science, and development of innovations to reduce pressure on reefs. While these measures are critical to preventing reef decline, they are out of reach for all but a small minority.

OneReef has a very specific model to achieve the goal of reducing the immediate stressors and encouraging the ownership of reef communities in this effort.  They design and negotiate simple Conservation Agreements between the local owners of coral reefs and philanthropists who are committed to providing funding over a long period of time.  In this process they set a strategy, and identify the financing of the basic assets the project needs to stay effective.  “Working under simple, long-term agreements,” says LaFranchi, “communities and investors prevent the loss of reefs in ways neither could accomplish individually.”

This initially starts as an agreement for a five-year ‘trial period,’ with funding solely from OneReef directly or private philanthropists via OneReef.  After this period, if goals are met, the agreement is renegotiated for another 20 years. This gives reef communities the opportunity to build their own set of financial tools – a self sustainable financing system. It empowers traditional community leaders to encourage the islanders to make (and participate in) long-term commitments to preservation. They are able to demonstrate and identify a source of income to the community in year three, year five, and for the long-term.

In deciding where to roll out projects, OneReef focuses on areas where they can cost effectively establish a large portfolio of projects with visible success: where reef health is critical to the well-being of communities and where communities are willing and able to make long-term commitments to a management intervention.  Therefore, OneReef started its efforts in the Western Pacific – Micronesia, including Pulau, Yap, Pohnpei, and the Marshall Islands.

Want proof that OneReef’s approach is effective?

In 2010 OneReef completed agreements that will protect two large coral atolls in the Western Pacific—putting about 350,000 acres of biologically important reef and associated habitat under protection and monitoring. In the Micronesia region, they aim to scale this emerging network from two to 20 sites, from 350,000 acres to 2 million acres. One Reef plans the same for the Melanesia and Polynesia Regions of Oceania, focusing on reefs and communities with the best prospects for adaptation to shifting climate.

Chris LaFranchi summarizes OneReef’s efforts eloquently: “It’s a very simple way to think about solving a problem. Bring people together to solve a problem by developing a relationship of trust–a relationship in which those who are too small, or too isolated and don’t have the funds to make lasting change can somehow be connected to philanthropists who want to make change but are limited in their ability to reach those communities. Neither group is able to solve the problem individually, and both groups realize that they really need each other, which in the end is incredibly human in nature!”

We couldn’t agree more! To learn more about how you can get support OneReef’s efforts to reverse coral reef decline, please contact them!

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