Can Monetizing Coral Reefs Save Them?

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


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


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



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