Iberostar Takes a Step Towards the Protection of Coral Reefs with "Wave of Change"
By Megan Morikawa Global Sustainability Office Director, Iberostar Group | October 27, 2019
Corals represent just 1% of the world's surface but hold about a third of the world's biological diversity. Without urgent action to address climate change, pollution, overfishing and other threats, these beautiful and life-sustaining organisms as we know them could disappear. Roughly one-quarter of coral reefs worldwide are already considered critically damaged, with another two-thirds under serious threat.
Iberostar Group has more than 120 hotels and 80% of them depend directly on the health of the coastline for successful business. Moreover, 80% of the company's facilities in the Caribbean are protected by coral reefs. This territory amounts to about 2.3 square miles of coral reefs which are directly responsible for the protection of Iberostar hotels across the region. It's estimated that a healthy coral reef can absorb nearly 95% of the wave energy of a tropical storm before it hits the coastline. From economic analysis conducted by The Nature Conservancy and World Resources Institute, we estimate that these 2.3 square miles of reef provide protection from storms, increase tourism, lucrative dive operations, healthier beaches, and more reef fish totaling approximately USD $2,000,000 of value per year.
Those same reefs also provide the home for reef fish which are not only the local option on the hotel buffet menu, but a primary source of protein for most of the communities that employ and surround those hotels. On a more global scale, coral reefs are the canary in the coal mine for climate change. It's one of the ecosystems that's expected to feel the impacts of climate change first (Iberostar is already seeing drastic impacts from warming oceans in the Pacific), and it's an ecosystem that we're in great peril of losing as we know it.
Local initiatives alongside global influence are critical for successful marine conservation, and the hotel industry happens to have both. Those combined make the health of the oceans a critical component for sustained business for even the next generation, let alone generations to come. However, the greater part of the reefs in question are endangered and threatened by many stressors and, consequently, restoration plays a key role in ensuring their continued ecosystem services and protection.
At Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, we have drawn a road map in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on people, the driving force underpinning our company's success, and the environment, with a special commitment to the oceans, and have implemented a movement called "Wave of Change." This movement, which started in 2017, is based on three complementary, but clearly different action lines: eliminating the consumption of single-use plastics, promoting responsible seafood consumption and the improvement of coastal health.
This three-pronged approach to protecting oceans and encouraging responsible tourism includes:
1. Moving beyond plastics in all Iberostar's more than 120 hotels by 2020 through reimagining every use, from straws and coffee pods to employee uniforms in an effort to establish a circular economy.
2. Promoting the responsible consumption of seafood; among other efforts, Iberostar and partners have brought the first sustainable seafood into hotels in Southern Europe, Dominican Republic, and Mexico and have partnered with the WWF, FishWise to guide our staff and clients towards improving on our global seafood sustainability.
3. Improving coastal health not only through our efforts on reef restoration in the Dominican Republic, but through a look at the discovery, protection, and restoration of the coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses in our global operations.
I'm passionate about innovative solutions for conserving and protecting our oceans. When Iberostar Group began to search for a strong scientific foundation for its Wave of Change movement, I joined the company in early 2018 to work as an advisor for our work in coastal health, focusing on leading the on-ground research on coral reef restoration in the Americas. Now, I have the great honor of leading a strong sustainability team along with Gloria Fluxà, the company's fourth generation leadership and ownership, in scientifically based actions for all three pillars.
One of my main tasks is to work to connect Iberostar Group with a greater scientific community to provide a strong foundation towards improvements in reduced plastic consumption, sustainable seafood sourcing and coastal health protection. Trying to understand how to better protect our ocean is nearly impossible without a scientific community, which helps to be more effective through the creation, compilation and provision of data that helps assess and choose viable projects.
Iberostar's new coral lab has four 1,200-liter tanks, four more 500-liter tanks and four control systems to allow researchers to accurately simulate future ocean conditions
Therefore, Iberostar Group is in constant contact with a community of dozens of researchers, NGO leaders and other professionals who are involved in the Wave of Change movement, to ensure that its results are following the correct path. We've also hired our own core science team of five talented and dedicated researchers working full time on coral restoration.
In that journey, one of our most exciting discoveries is that the private sector may have novel solutions to some of our ocean's biggest problems, solutions I was trying to find answers to during my PhD. One of the main pillars of Iberostar's Coastal Health initiative is to see whether or not coral reef restoration is scalable, and if tourism can play a catalytic role in that. Although anyone can know how to reforest on land, up until now, coral reef reforestation has been impossible to demonstrate at greater scale, and not a single squared mile of coral reefs has ever been restored anywhere in the world.
We are trying to learn if restoration can be scaled by leveraging the strengths of Iberostar, using hotel locations across the Caribbean to boost diversity across species as well as amongst individuals while incorporating new research on how to restore reefs that are better equipped to survive a changing climate.
Serving as a haven for threatened Caribbean coral, the lab was created to help protect essential ocean life
A healthy coastline changes depending on the region. In the Caribbean, it usually means healthy coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses and Iberostar has seen major declines in all three over a very short period, declines that are expected to worsen with climate change. Restoration of these ecosystems is a hopeful new area of research, which is Wave of Change's initial focus. To do this, Iberostar's science team and network of partners focus on scalable reef restoration in a changing climate.
On a day to day basis, our team works on advancing coral reef restoration efforts and research, focusing on checking the coral nurseries that Iberostar Group maintains alongside the NGO FUNDEMAR (Fundación Dominicana de Estudios Marinos). Thanks to the institution's experience and profound understanding of the local issues and environment, they have worked with Iberostar Group since 2016 by providing local support and context on how to carry out marine conservation effectively in the Dominican Republic.
As the latest effort in its Wave of Change movement, Iberostar Group recently opened a new land-based coral lab in the Dominican Republic. The lab was created to help protect essential ocean life from rising global temperatures in the future-and defend against a new fast-moving coral pandemic today.
We didn't realize it when we started the project, but we were building Noah's Ark for coral as the storm was coming and disease was washing across the Caribbean. Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) has cut a ghostly wake of bleached-out coral bones from Central Florida, where it first appeared in 2014, to Mexico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, and now the Dominican Republic, where it suddenly arrived in March.
We saw this underwater white plague coming as we hatched plans for the new coral lab in the Dominican Republic. Moving at an unprecedented pace, a band of people from the scientific community, Iberostar, the Dominican government, NGOs and others finished the lab in a year, just as the coral disease started infecting local reefs-eight months sooner than expected.
Megan Morikawa, Global Sustainability Director, and Macarena Blanco, Marine Biologist, at work in Iberostar's new land-based coral lab in the Dominican Republic
The coral lab initially houses 12 species and 180 individual corals (most facilities only contain a few species). Built in the footprint of a former yoga palapa, the center operates under rigorous scientific standards but is open to visitors, including children in Iberostar's Star Camp entertainment program.
The onshore lab serves as a haven for threatened Caribbean coral. It is a genetic bank, protected from increasingly destructive hurricanes offshore where most reef farms live. Plus, it pulls saltwater from wells, not the ocean, making it safe from fast-moving, broad reaching coral diseases such as SCTLD.
Among its features, the lab has four 1,200-liter tanks, four more 500-liter tanks and four control systems to allow researchers to accurately simulate future ocean conditions, so they can develop and grow heat-resistant coral strains that could one day replenish the ailing reefs that sustain entire fish populations and protect coastal livelihoods. Importantly, the lab was designed to give clients and local community a one-of-a-kind, indelible ocean experience on land and expose them to an environmental challenge they might otherwise never know about.
Iberostar plans to open more coastal health facilities in other locations within the next two years and hatch a number of offshore nurseries. It hopeful example that when companies like Iberostar make brave and bold commitments to the ocean, it allows all of us to explore much needed science in an exciting new setting.
As background, Iberostar Group is a 100% family owned, Spanish multinational company headquartered in Palma de Mallorca, which has been involved in the tourism industry since 1956, but whose origins in business date back to 1877. Iberostar has a presence in 35 countries, employs more than 32,000 people and serves more than 8 million customers every year. With hospitality as the company's core business, its portfolio includes more than 120 4- and 5- star hotels in 19 countries on three continents. There are three further business units in addition to hotels: a travel and inbound agency, holiday club and estate agency.
Iberostar Group belongs to the Fluxà family and is headed by Miguel Fluxà Rosselló, founder of the current hotel business of the Group and of the Iberostar Hotels & Resorts brand. His daughters Sabina and Gloria hold the two positions of Vice President with the company. Sabina is also the Group CEO and Gloria holds the position of Chief Sustainability Officer.
At Iberostar Group, we have always believed that great enterprises are not just the ones that are successful in business but also those that assume a great degree of responsibility, that work hard to set an example and who leverage their size and reach to improve their surroundings.
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