Installing mooring buoys in Belize. Photo by CORAL staff
Our History

Originally founded in 1994 to galvanize the dive community around conservation, CORAL has grown from a small, grassroots alliance into a world-renowned organization with a history of successfully working with local communities in coral reef regions around the world to protect their coral reefs. We believe that for conservation to be durable, our interventions must be aligned with the social, cultural, and economic needs of each community, and that local leaders must be empowered to lead the effort. Now, we’re honing our strategies and tools to ensure that they benefit new places and new people.

CORAL’s Historical Timeline

1994
  • Founded by Stephen Colwell to engage the dive community in protecting coral reefs, whose significant declines due to human activities was beginning to be documented
  • Awarded first microgrant to Bonaire Marine Park
1995
  • Launched CORAL website
  • Partnered with the Palau Conservation Society (grant of $72,000) to support protection of Rock Island Marine Park
  • Joined the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), the first-ever multilateral effort to bring government agencies, scientists, and NGOs together for the purpose of developing global conservation strategies
1996
  • Launched membership program
1997
  • Created traveling slide show, The Vanishing Rainbow, which reached more than 100 dive clubs, schools, and community groups throughout the country
  • Provided leadership to the tremendously successful International Year of the Reef (IYOR) Public Awareness Campaign; by the end of 1997, more than 225 organizations in 45 countries had sponsored IYOR activities
  • Was selected from more than 2,500 U.S. non-governmental organizations to appear in a 30-minute PBS documentary entitled The Visionaries, filmed on Palau Island, Micronesia; the show documented CORAL’s work to promote coral reef conservation and was distributed to 175 television markets across the country to be aired four times throughout each market
  • Established the Bonaire Dive Festival, the largest environmental event of its kind in the Caribbean, where participants see firsthand how a marine protected area can create a healthy reef environment
1998
  • Was awarded Scuba Diving Magazine’s Robert Rodale Environmental Award for getting divers and the dive industry involved in marine conservation
  • Launched a traveling underwater photography exhibition, Coral Reef Masterpieces, which was viewed by nearly 2 million people
1999
  • Website voted Most Visited Site for Coral Reefs by the search engine Hot Bot; the website won several other awards and was featured on the PBS program The Net Café, which highlights interesting and influential websites
  • Became founding member of the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), a coalition formed to implement the International Coral Reef Initiative Framework for Action
  • Established the new Marine Protected Areas Program
  • Launched the International Coral Reef Information Network, a Web-based portal to coral reef educational resources, science, and activities for use by teachers, nonprofit organizations, and coral reef nations
2000
  • Launched Dive In to Earth Day to encourage the public to participate in Earth Day activities focused on marine themes; approximately 1,650 divers and more than 3,000 other marine enthusiasts throughout the world participated in activities such as underwater and beach cleanups, fish and coral surveys, mooring buoy installations, and artificial reef placement
  • Opened branch office on Bonaire
2001
  • Launched Dive Operator Recognition Program to reward environmentally sustainable business practices on coral reefs
  • Launched Coral Parks Program designed to help improve management of marine protected areas
  • Added Marine Protected Area Management tool kit to CORAL website
  • Conducted first-ever training in sustainable dive operations in Bonaire
  • Awarded fellowship to Sirilo “Didi” Dulunaqio, a Fijian from the Kubalau District to travel to Bonaire for a two-week training in MPA management; on his return, Didi worked with the ten village chiefs of the district to ban all commercial fishing on their local atoll, the Namena Marine Reserve, and to extend user fees and boat patrols
2002
  • Hired Executive Director Brian Huse
  • Conducted first-ever survey of marine park mangers, detailing the key opportunities and challenges facing coral reef marine protected areas
  • Advised Cozumel Marine Park on how to cope with specific management issues such as the introduction of invasive algae, user fee administration, and engaging dive operators in park protection
  • Provided a five-day training program to a group of managers and dive operators from the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, Colombia
2003
  • Chosen by USAID to lead a $600,000 three-year effort to foster sustainability in the tourism industry along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, involving the nations of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras
  • Published The Practical Guide to Good Practice—a comprehensive manual for building environmental and economic sustainability for the marine recreation industry
  • Initiated field projects with marine protected areas and the marine recreation industry in Palau, Fiji, and Pohnpei
2004
  • Selected by UNESCO to facilitate stakeholder process in Kiribati for the formulation of a World Heritage Site in the central Pacific Ocean
  • Designed new user fee system for Pohnpei that will generate funds for the management of their marine protected area network
  • Provided leadership as Palau revised management plan for Rock Islands Marine Park to greatly improve enforcement of regulations, conservation programs, and the visitor experience
  • Brought together Koror State Government officials, marine recreation providers, and local and international organizations to form an alliance to manage the Rock Islands Marine Park
2005
  • Facilitated process in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, to resolve disputes around ownership of reef resources and ensure tourism and conservation benefits the local communities
  • Launched first domestic conservation program on Maui to improve management of Honolua Bay and Molokini Marine Life Protection Districts
  • Completed design of new approach for reef conservation, the Coral Reef Sustainable Destination (CRSD) model
  • Hired first of eight Field Representatives who work to maintain momentum in our field project sites
2006
  • Received recognition for CRSD conservation success internationally: World Tourism Forum on Peace and Sustainable Development, the Central American Congress on Protected Area Management, and the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting
  • Published the first-ever Voluntary Standards for Marine Recreation to enhance protection of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef
  • Facilitated new user-fee system for the Namena Marine Reserve in Fiji which generated sufficient income to implement public-awareness campaign, a warden system, and scholarships for 100 school children
2007
  • Implemented CRSD program in 7 communities in Mexico, Belize, Fiji, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia
  • Exceeded $2 million budget for the first time
2008
  • Sponsored educational events in honor of the 2008 International Year of the Reef in Hawaii, Belize, Fiji, and Bonaire
  • Completed the world’s first business plan written specifically for a marine protected area
  • Established Raja Ampat, Indonesia, as a full-fledged CRSD site; the user fee CORAL established in Raja Ampat earned more than $100,000 in its first year of existence
  • Installed nearly 40 mooring buoys in Belize as part of a project to remove more than 25,000 anchors from the reefs every year, and also funded mooring buoys and other infrastructure improvements in the Roatan Marine Park in Honduras
  • Created the new Environmental Walk-Through program to provide critical assessments for marine recreation operators
  • Worked with the Kona Task Force to create voluntary standards for marine recreation on Hawai′i Island
2009
  • Celebrated 15 years of coral reef conservation with special events including an anniversary dive trip to the Namena Marine Reserve in Fiji and a week-long convergence of CORAL field staff in San Francisco
  • Completed the final installation of mooring buoys in the Namena Marine Reserve, making it the first official anchor-free zone in Fiji
  • Helped the Misool Eco Resort create the first-ever patrol program in the Eastern Misool Locally Managed Marine Area
  • Developed a groundbreaking business plan for the Roatan Marine Park in Honduras
  • Trained over 700 of Mexico’s tourism operators in sustainable marine recreation as the workshops became an official training requirement for tour guides operating in the Cozumel Reefs National Marine Park
  • Facilitated the successful development and adoption of voluntary standards for marine tourism in West Hawaii
  • Held our first Sustainable Marine Recreation workshop in Puerto Rico at the 22nd Annual U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Meeting
2010
  • Expanded our marine conservation work to the eastern Bali community of Amed in Indonesia
  • Expanded our Reef Leadership Network to Playa del Carmen and Riviera Maya, Mexico, training six Reef Leaders in Playa del Carmen
  • Planted nearly 100 mangrove seedlings in three high-priority locations along the coast of San Pedro, Belize
  • Coordinated volunteer activities for the Kaanapali Makai Watch program, modeled after the successful Neighborhood Watch program, in which community members act as the “eyes and ears” for law enforcement
2011
  • Welcomed Dr. Michael Webster as the organization’s new executive director
  • Took on management of the Coral Reef CSI program, designed to help investigate and prosecute crimes against coral reef ecosystems
  • Began working with the Pew Environment Group and the Fijian Ministry of Fisheries to advance legislation for a Fijian National Shark Sanctuary, securing endorsements from traditional leaders and developing wide-reaching media and education campaigns
  • Collaborated with the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the San Pedro Tour Guide association to host the first-ever lionfish tournament in San Pedro, Belize
2012
  • Announced a partnership between CORAL and an elite team of other scientists and conservationists (known as the Reefs Tomorrow Initiative) to build a true scientific understanding of how reefs function, respond to combinations of threats, and rebound from disturbances like coral bleaching events
  • Gained protections for Cordelia Banks, Capiro Banks, and other reefs off Honduras’s coastline 
  • Began working with hotels and other local partners in Hawai’i to increase recycled water use, thereby reducing the amount of harmful wastewater reaching the reefs
  • Installed the 50th Respecting Coral Reefs sign in Hawai’i educating visitors and locals about proper reef etiquette
2013
  • Launched an organizational rebrand to reflect the expanded scope, effectiveness, and urgency of our work
  • Worked with partners to formalize regency-level protections for sharks and rays in Raja Ampat
  • Began the process of establishing a network of marine protected areas in Bali, Indonesia, comprising 19 marine parks and 89,000 hectares
  • Successfully advocated for a Fiji Airways ban on the transport of unsustainably sourced shark fin and related shark products