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Can Monetizing Coral Reefs Save Them?

Coral reef near Denis Island in the Seychelles that has suffered coral bleaching. Photo by: Shannon Switzer www.GirlChasesGlobe.com


One young man thinks so, and he’s started a for-profit business called ReefCam to do just that.

Tim Richards, owner and founder of ReefCam, who is currently working on his MBA at American University, first developed the idea after mulling over different environmental business models he could implement in the Caribbean. He landed on this one and hit the ground running.

Here’s how it works: Richards and his high-tech team set up specialized underwater equipment that streams live HD video of visually stunning coral reefs and coral reef nurseries located worldwide. The feeds are then sold to businesses with high foot-traffic such as resorts & spas, corporations, schools & universities, restaurants, and hospitals.

In addition to improving aesthetics, Richards envisions the feeds providing many other valuable services. For example, at beach resorts that offer diving, the stunning imagery can help spur SCUBA reservations, and for organizations or businesses with marine conservation programs, the HD video feed can be used as a real-time education and research tool. Richards is also hopeful that the feeds will create skilled jobs for local hosts both at the installation sites on the reef as well as the output sites. And what business model would be complete without a mobile app so smart phone users can drool over the footage too? He’s got that covered.

“The vast majority of groups we’ve spoken with have been very encouraging. They love the idea of having a live view of reef to show off. It’s both aesthetically pleasing and brings environment and conservation to the front of peoples’ minds,” Richards explained in a recent interview, when asked how the idea has been received by both the commercial and environmental worlds thus far.

While Richards’ innovative form of reef conservation has mainly been met with positivity, he admits that at first he personally wrestled with the ethics of monetizing the earth’s reefs, because he views them as priceless.


The ReefCam team from left to right: Tim Richards, David Bidwell, Josh Bailar, Noah Gray. Photo courtesy: Tim Richards


“The most backlash I’ve experienced has come from myself,” he stated and went on to explain, “…it’s important to understand that though we are a for-profit entity, we are not out to exploit the reef. ReefCam’s mission is to show people, some who may never get to see a reef firsthand, its natural beauty and importance to our planet’s health. Operating as a for-profit company provides the best opportunity to reach the most people possible for many years to come.”

While his company remains in the trial stage for now, with several live test feeds still getting the bugs worked out of them, Richards aims to have the first official feeds up and running by next month. He explained that in addition to the team’s strategically chosen reef sites, ReefCam is open to establishing new feeds based on requests from clients.

When asked what the biggest challenge has been so far in getting ReefCam from concept to viable business, he responded, “Coordination. This project requires many partners with different skill sets in numerous locations. It truly is the meeting of environment and business, which is an awesome thing, but it also means working amongst all the necessary parties in many fields. One minute I’ll be discussing financing or telecomm, and the next thing I know I’m on the phone with a diver regarding algae on the cameras.”

Richard’s overarching vision for ReefCam is to revolutionize the way the scientific community approaches raising awareness about reef conservation by putting it directly under the nose of the general public. Rather than preaching to the choir, as he suggests environmental researchers often end up doing, ReefCam will connect anyone who vacations, visits the hospital, or walks into a business highrise directly to the reef. These people, Richards explains, are the missing link, the ones who, once they see firsthand the beauty of the reef ecosystem and learn about its plight, can bridge the gap between science and every day life.

For the sake of our reefs, let’s hope he’s right.


To learn more about ReefCam contact Tim Richards at ReefCamLLC@gmail.com


Bermuda Chubs near reef in Chankanaab National Park, Cozumel, Mexico. Photo by: Shannon Switzer www.GirlChasesGlobe.com




  1. Dr Alison Jones
    Keppel Islands
    January 3, 2013, 8:54 pm

    I’d like to challenge naysayers to go ahead and set up their own not for profit group and get something like this up and running. Tim and his cohorts have probably already sunk lots of their own $ and time into this and if they use some of the funding for other projects or to cover the substantial costs of running a not for profit organization then good for them. It is so refreshing to see innovation driving enterprise.

  2. Phil Jones
    October 19, 2012, 10:15 am

    He is right. Ive dived in such places and never forgotten what a privilege it is to get close to such places. This kind of activity can only be a dream for many people and despite the publicity, remains a world hidden from view.

    Being able to see a live stream is not only entertaining but also educational.

    I hope the project works.

  3. Dave Allison
    Merida Yucatan Mexico
    October 18, 2012, 4:32 pm

    I believe that this is a good proposal. I hope it works. It allows a positive view of the reefs, conservation and rational capitalism. It is not stealing from the public commons nor enclosing the commons but sharing the commons with others. Good luck.

  4. Claire
    October 17, 2012, 4:10 pm

    priya, why is it selfish to bring natural beauty to people who would otherwise not experience it? This is done as a business, where else would the resources come from for an aesthetic project in our times? Awareness is still key to action in the long term, and as the entrepreneur is damaging
    nothing, he has every right to make a living.

  5. Jay
    October 16, 2012, 6:17 pm

    Priya: What on earth are you talking about? He is out there actively trying to help save coral reefs, what have YOU done lately to help the reefs? Probably nothing so I wouldn’t make such ridiculous accusations of selfishness.

  6. Katie
    Taolagnaro, Madagascar
    October 16, 2012, 2:19 am

    Hey Shannon! I love the idea of raising awareness, but as is the case with so many of these campaigns, no money actually gets donated to the cause (think breast cancer– everyone is “aware” but how many people have actually contributed money to research?). How does ReefCam intend to keep their business up and running while the reefs are dying off? I think (I hope) there is a missing step here in the explanation of their business plan….

    • Shannon Switzer
      October 16, 2012, 3:17 am

      Good point Katie! Tim had addressed this during out interview stating, “It’s also important to mention that we give a minimum of 25% of the profits directly back to conservation efforts. In a perfect world we could leave nature alone and unencumbered, but this is sadly not a reality. Human affects like pollution, overfishing, and climate change (to name just a few) are already imposing their will on reefs. Our systems are safe, small, and exist for a greater good.” My apologies for not including that in the original text. I hope it paints a clearer picture of how ReefCam will be directly raising money to protect reefs.

  7. James Davis
    October 15, 2012, 4:25 pm

    I dive in the Seychelles. I will never forget the first time I put my head in the water with a mask on and saw the coral, back in 1986. I was very lucky. Not only was there no coral bleaching then, but at that precise moment the sun was out and the visibility was very good. A moment later the sun went in and let’s say 50% of the magic disappeared. Diving on other days with poor visibility (lots of sand and also plankton in the water) can be like driving in thick fog. I think he would probably need some high power (expensive) underwater lighting to keep the pics good all the time.

  8. Mr.Vinh
    October 14, 2012, 9:39 pm

    I hope that hes right !

  9. NamelessOpponent
    October 14, 2012, 9:09 pm

    So, he just wants to set up a business where only he would benefit from the profits. His only goal is to make money off of the viewing of coral reefs. Unless money from his business goes into the conservation of the coral reefs itself, this is just another money scam. This business is just to make himself and other big establishments such as resorts more money. People dont know that the reefs are slowly dying all around the world. It’s about the reefs not the money.

  10. priya
    October 13, 2012, 1:25 pm

    one of the cruel example for mans selfishness

  11. Dan Blore
    Sunshine Coast
    October 13, 2012, 12:24 am

    Would also be great to check visibility before a dive. I’d love one in my bedroom, but unless the camera is in roughly my timezone, I’d probably want to be able to set a delay so I’m not looking at a dark screen in the middle of my day. Ah! Unless you will switch between feeds in different timezones to follow the daylight. Looking forward to the app.