Comment to support market-based strategies submitted to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

On Friday (6/29) on behalf of the Alex C. Walker Foundation, Georgia Aquarium, the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), 19 endorsing organizations and 7 individuals, I submitted a public comment to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary about proposed changes to their regulations and zoning scheme.  This was a rapid turnaround project launched on Monday (6/25) after I returned from a 10-day dive trip in Mexico without e-mail access and discovered that the original coalition I had helped to develop for the comment had changed their views on some critical aspects of our proposed approaches.  It was extremely gratifying to develop, in less than four days, a comment presenting four market-based strategies that would change the status quo and potentially provide sustainable long-term financial sources to support ecosystem-level restoration of the marine environment.

Given the extent of this coalition that helped develop and then signed onto the comment, I am very hopeful that these market-based entrepreneurial options for marine environment restoration will actually be given serious consideration!  Many of us will continue to be actively engaged in encouraging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to do so.  Details about NOAA’s public comment process can be found at  The submitted PDF is attached for your reading pleasure.

Comment on Boundaries Regulations and Zoning Scheme for FKNMS_062912_ Alex C Walker Foundation_Georgia Aquarium_PERC

Yale Conservation Finance Camp

I am very excited to be participating in “Collaborating for Conservation – Yale Conservation Finance Camp 2012” starting on Monday, June 4th.  This training is pivotal for several of the ideas currently in concept stage that may provide market-based approaches to making coral reef restoration financially sustainable.  I wanted to share the problem statement (Developing Sustainable Funding Strategies for Coral Restoration_Brett Howell Yale Conservation Finance Camp 2012) that I developed for the training.  Suggestions on how to solve the challenges presented in the problem statement would be greatly appreciated!  More information about the camp can be found at:


What a difference a year makes

As I sit here in Atlanta fully engaged in my Conservation Fellowship at Georgia Aquarium, I am constantly amazed at how much difference a year has made in my state-of-mind, life perspective, and daily activity.   This time last year I had just submitted my application to the Property & Environment Research Center’s (PERC) Enviropreneur Institute, and I spent my professional time doing management consulting work for one government client.  By comparison, so far this week I:

  • Had a Skype conversation with an entrepreneur in Jamaica
  • Talked with a CFO/mentor about the potential for creating coral mitigation banks in Florida
  • Organized a trip to SCUBA dive with The Nature Conservancy in the Dry Tortugas
  • Was invited to speak to an undergraduate class at Georgia State University and to present a seminar at Florida Atlantic University
  • Attended an info session about a social entrepreneurship incubator
  • Strategized about how to design a cutting edge coral planting scientific study
  • Talked about launching a new company with an enviropreneur from PERC’s 2007 class

Last week, I was humbled to have an article about a workshop I had organized as part of my project published in Nature, one of the most influential scientific publications, entitled “Conservation meets capitalism in Florida,” (  One participant offered in congratulations, “The fact that you, or someone, got Nature to cover a meeting that may lead to a plan that may lead to action is a little mind boggling, but I suppose it’s a testament to the timeliness and novelty of the approach, and I’m very happy to see it.”

What changed, you might ask?  I became a full-time “enviropreneur” as the Walker Conservation Fellow at Georgia Aquarium.  Wondering what that means?  An “enviropreneur” is dedicated to improving environmental quality through property rights and markets.

PERC is accepting applications right now for their 2012 Enviropreneur Institute.  Not a day goes by when I’m not amazed at how my experience at PERC directly impacts my day-to-day work.  I have a network of peers and mentors to advise me, and I have been fortunate to receive ongoing support from PERC, including for the workshop “Market Approaches to Coral Reef Restoration: Investigating the Viability” that I co-directed with them in Florida and that led to the article in Nature.

Check out the Enviropreneur Institute today.  Applications are due March 12th (deadline just extended)!  The application can be accessed at:

The quest to identify sustainable long-term funding for marine conservation

“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled” – Howard Stevenson

On February 9 – 10th, Georgia Aquarium and the Property & Environment Research Center (PERC) will host a workshop, “Market Approaches to Coral Reef Restoration: Investigating the Viability,” to explore how voluntary agreements between reef users, conservationists, government, and private businesses might improve the stewardship and restoration of Florida’s coral reefs.  The workshop will bring together approximately 30 professionals from stakeholder groups including the Coral Restoration Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, Forest Trends, Nature Conservancy, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Miami, University of South Florida, Keys-based diving, snorkeling, and fishing operators, a global cruise line, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among others.

This workshop is an important milestone in a project that I first conceived in January 2011 to apply concepts of property rights and markets to provide sustainable long-term financial support for coral reef restoration and conservation.

In the US and much of the rest of the world, natural resources are usually “priced” based on their extraction value, for example how much a forest can be sold for as timber, and not based on the value of the “services” provided as an ecosystem, for example as a carbon sink or home to wildlife.  Recently, the concept of “payment for ecosystem services” (PES) or “marine payment for ecosystem services” (MPES) has been developed to put a price on the “missing market(s)” aspect(s) of the nonmarket benefits that society derives from nature (e.g. food and water, climate regulation, waste processing and aesthetics).

As the Walker Conservation Fellow at the Georgia Aquarium, I am leading the effort to explore the feasibility of developing an MPES program in the Florida Keys to make coral reef conservation self-financing and economically sustainable.  The Coral Restoration Foundation has been on the cutting edge of developing coral nursery techniques and actively testing the outplanting of corals to degraded natural reefs.  In 2009, The Nature Conservancy teamed with the Coral Restoration Foundation and other project partners on a three-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to  expand on  restoration work already underway (see for details  Coral nurseries established through the ARRA grant have proven to be highly successful at producing significant amounts of coral tissue for species that are threatened (e.g. Coral Restoration Foundation has over 20,000 staghorn and elkhorn corals in their nurseries).

Traditionally, such investments in conservation have been made through grants.  Unfortunately, grants are time-limited.  The ARRA grant ends by December 2012, and it is unclear what will happen to the nurseries established. To solve the challenge of inconsistent cash flows provided by grants and address long-term coral restoration and ecosystem recovery, I am evaluating how to develop competitive markets for coral conservation drawing upon a variety of techniques not traditionally applied to the marine environment.  Rather than being paid for extracting something out of a reef (e.g. tropical fish for the ornamental aquarium trade), I am working to establish a cash flow model to make money from putting coral back onto the reef through ecological restoration projects.  My conversations with more than 200  people worldwide about the idea of valuing ecosystem benefits that coral provides to the marine environment have revealed enthusiasm and even excitement about the MPES approach.

The workshop will provide the opportunity to explore a number of approaches from the very different perspectives of the wide-ranging stakeholder groups.  Following the workshop, I will complete a detailed feasibility analysis of several potential cash flow models.

For live action of the workshop discussion, check the Twitter feeds @BrettWHowell @para_sight and @PERCtweets between February 9-10.  If the idea of applying property rights to environmental protection is of interest to you, checkout PERC’s 2012 Enviropreneur Institute, which is currently accepting applications (

Staghorn coral outplanted by Coral Restoration Foundation in Florida ©Tim Grollimund

2011 Year-End Acknowledgements and a Great Start to 2012!

Happy (Belated) New Year!  It is hard to believe that another year has come and gone.  2011 was a banner year for me in aligning my passion with a career involving marine conservation.  I wanted to share two major acknowledgements from December.

2012 is already off to a busy start.  An intern has joined the Georgia Aquarium staff to provide additional project support starting on January 2nd.  On January 18th, I will travel to Boulder, CO, to make a presentation to an undergraduate class at the University of Colorado Boulder interested in supporting the project through the development of case studies where market-based solutions have worked in the marine environment.  Following completion of the workshop “Market Approaches to Coral Reef Restoration: Investigating the Viability,” in early February, major focus will turn to developing several short and long-term business models that could successfully make coral reef conservation self-financing and economically sustainable.  For ongoing updates on progress, please follow me on Twitter (@BrettWHowell).

Sunset in Key West from my trip in December when I attended the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting

Recent accomplishments from a busy first two months with Georgia Aquarium!

It is hard to believe that two months have passed since I started working at Georgia Aquarium! As the week kicks off, I wanted to share a couple of recent accomplishments.

After several months of planning, invitations are ready for the workshop “Market Approaches to Coral Reef Restoration: Investigating the Viability” hosted by the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) and Georgia Aquarium in February 2012. I will be serving as a co-director and a discussion leader for the workshop which will bring together professionals from the conservation, business, scientific, and government communities to discuss whether market-based conservation programs are possible for Florida’s coral reefs.

The below photos are from meetings last week with Barrett Walker of the Alex C. Walker Foundation and Dr. Andrew Smith of The Nature Conservancy. Dr. Smith visited Georgia Aquarium to give the Alex C. Walker Foundation a presentation about the recently completed study “Market Forces and Nearshore Fisheries Management in Micronesia” and to talk with me about market-based approaches to reef restoration based on his experiences in Micronesia. Study findings can be found at

I am pleased to report that my coral restoration project in the Florida Keys now has “official” coverage on Georgia Aquarium’s Research & Conservation website! Check it out at

The next few days will be busy with project work. I am heading to Tavernier and Key West on Monday for meetings with the Coral Restoration Foundation, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, and one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s coral resource manager experts. During the trip, I will be snorkeling on a critical coral nursery in Key West! Follow me on Twitter @BrettWHowell for live updates and look for a blog post about the trip late next week.

Adopt-A-Coral Friday!

On “Black Friday” rather than running out to the nearest mall, Adopt-A-Coral™ from Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) instead!  CRF is a non-profit conservation organization created to develop off-shore coral nurseries and reef restoration programs for critically endangered coral reefs at local, national, and international levels.  The mission of CRF is to develop affordable, effective strategies for protecting and restoring coral reefs and to train and empower others to implement those strategies in their coastal communities.

I’ve already adopted three corals – Mother’s Day (see 5/10/11 post “An alternative Mother’s Day bouquet, thanks to the hard work of Coral Restoration Foundation”), Father’s Day, and the third to the Property & Environment Research Center (PERC) as gift from the 2011 Enviropreneur Institute class (  With the holidays coming up, I’m planning to get several more as Christmas gifts.

If you are interested in adopting, check out

Investing for Happier Dives?

How many SCUBA dives do you have under your belt? I’ve been diving for more than 16 years (now that I’ve turned 30, reference “The Big 3-0” post from 11/14 for thoughts on that) and have somewhere in the range of 250-500 dives. Perhaps I should have done a better job of logging my dives, but in the past several years, I haven’t had reef-based underwater experiences that I could get REALLY excited about. That all changed last week with my whirlwind tour through South Florida for meetings related to my coral conservation project at Georgia Aquarium. I had the opportunity to dive on Coral Restoration Foundation’s (CRF) staghorn coral nursery just off of Tavernier, Florida on Thursday, November 17th.

CRF’s site has an ACRE of coral on the sandy bottom leading up to reefs in just about 30 feet of water. WOW! I spent just over an hour underwater helping to hang a tree with stagorn corals (see photo) which will be out- planted to the reef in ~6 months (pending a permit to CRF for the right to start doing large-scale plantings). While I worked every moment I was underwater up until I hit the minimum air requirement needed for a safe ascent and safety stop, it was the most fun I have had on a dive in years! There is something so satisfying to know that my hour underwater will lead to 50-100 new coral colonies capable of helping to repopulate a reef.

The title for this blog post comes from an innocent question from the daughter of Ken Nedimyer, CRF’s President and founder:
Ken’s Daughter – “Daddy, can I do a happy dive on the nursery?”
Ken – “Yes.”
Brett – “What’s a happy dive?”
Ken – “That’s what we call reef dives when people just float around and look at coral; designed to keep the customers happy.”

I’ve now made it a personal mission to have a positive, direct impact on the environment each and every time I SCUBA dive, investing for happier dives. Over the next two years I am working with Georgia Aquarium and Coral Restoration Foundation to identify long-term ways of making coral restoration financially self-sustainable. Find me on Twitter @BrettWHowell or join Gaia Endeavor’s mailing list to follow the adventure live.

Georgia Aquarium divers work on coral trees in Coral Restoration Foundation's nursery