Coral Reefs - Earth Law Center (ELC)

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Key Takeaways

The Challenge

Despite global conservation and restoration efforts, coral reefs continue to die at an alarming rate. Traditional approaches such as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are essential, but not sufficient to fully curb reef destruction. Market-based solutions such as replanting corals may provide a pathway to success; however, there is no clear funding stream and enabling policies are few and far between.

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Our Approach

Earth Law Center (ELC) has a unique, nature-centric framework that would benefit coral reefs. Between 2018 and 2020, Howell Conservation Fund helped catalyze a team at ELC to investigate how the framework could be practically applied in the U.S. and abroad. 

ELC and HCF’s joint work drew on the lessons learned from HCF Founder Brett Howell’s work on market-based coral reef restoration. Brett is one of the early innovators behind the idea of applying market-based conservation approaches to restore coral reefs. His prior work in this field has included projects for the Georgia Aquarium, the Property & Environment Research Center (PERC), and OneReef

This project was unique in that it regarded coral reefs as living entities with their own inherent rights. It used the premise of Earth Law to provide a means to protect reefs for the benefit of the whole ecosystem, including humans.


To conclude the research, ELC and HCF co-developed a coral reef toolkit for reef managers. This was launched in late 2019 and focused on a new framework for coral reef protection that moved beyond traditional management schemes and market-based approaches. This new model focused on society’s responsibility to the Reefs, rather than of the traditional model of ownership over them. ELC and HCF presented this toolkit to the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. We also worked with the Republic of Palau’s Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism, and secured their support for a new bill ELC for coral reef protection using the Earth Law model.

To download a copy of the ELC Toolkit, click here.

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Coral reef image copyrights: Barrett Walker/Alex C. Walker Foundation. Public Domain images also used. All rights reserved where applicable.

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