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"IT'S ABOUT THE PEOPLE" CEO Scott Winters Powerfully Reframes the Mission

Coral Restoration Foundation™ CEO, Dr Scott Winters' passionate keynote address at Raise the Reef 2022 exposed the beating heart of the mission to save and restore our coral reefs - the people.




Introduction by David Splitt, Chairman of the CRF™ Board of Directors


"When I joined the CRF™ Board more than a decade ago, we were a small organization trying to grow coral in one offshore nursery and plant it on a few reefs. We had dreams of expanding in the Keys and beyond, but big ideas require more than a pass-the-hat budget and skeleton staff.


Then we found Scott Winters… or rather, he found us. He brought his academic background (a two-pronged Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity and BioInformatics and Computational Biology), an entrepreneur’s savvy, and real knowledge of how things work in the challenging world of nonprofits, scientific publishing, the international environmental community, and many other areas. His experiences and skills provided CRF™ with a special talent that can best be summed up in one word – leadership.


Today, Scott’s passion for coral restoration, combined with his impressive ability to inspire and manage people, have transformed CRF™. Internally, we are stronger, with a finely tuned and largely self-sufficient staff that is growing educational programs, earning clean financial and federal audits, garnering top ratings from nonprofit watchdogs, and advancing coral science from genetic catalogs to photomosaic reef maps. Externally, Scott champions CRF™ through his active participation in many international groups, highlighted by his role as co-founder of the Coral Restoration Consortium, where he serves as co-chair.


But rather than listening to me continue to enumerate the breadth of his achievements with CRF, I want you to join me in hearing his VISION for the future of CRF and the global mission of coral restoration.


Ladies and Gentlemen, with respect, admiration, and affection – Scott Winters"





Raise the Reef 2022 Keynote Address, Dr R. Scott Winters, CRF™ CEO


"I am so excited that we can be here this evening, in this special venue, at this special location in the world, and seeing each other – being together – for the first time in two years. The world is a different place than the last time we were together.

  • We’ve endured COVID, and our lives have changed.

  • The world is in a state of upheaval with the worst act of aggression in Europe since World War II.

  • And there is a barrage of threats facing democracy, voting rights, women’s rights, and challenges to race and inclusiveness - all against a backdrop of unprecedented environmental catastrophe and unabated global warming.

With everything going on in the world, why should we care about coral restoration? How is the Coral Restoration Foundation relevant?

I’m here because I believe in the work of the Coral Restoration Foundation. I believe it is more important, more relevant, now than ever before.

- - -

So who are we? What is Coral Restoration Foundation™? What do we stand for and believe in? WHY are we relevant?

You may know that we outplant corals – that is what we do. But that is not who we are. It is not why we exist or why we are relevant.

CRF™ exists to inspire hope.

CRF™ exists to inspire hope, by SHOWING that anyone can make a difference in the world. We outplant corals as an example that small individual actions can add up to be a force of change. That each of us – no matter our background or circumstances – can change the world. How do we change the world, by inspiring hope, one person at a time.

I’m sure some of you were expecting me to focus on the large numbers of corals we put back on the reef. But I’m not going to. Because the real power, the real work, is the one-on-one, individual action behind each coral.

So amongst the world turmoil – CRF™ is needed more than ever. People need to see and believe that they can make a difference in the world. That they can change the environment, shift political discourse, catalyze social change, and make tomorrow better than today. And point to CRF™ to see it can be done. CRF™ inspires hope.

- - -

The last time I spoke at a CRF™ gala was in 2016 – six years ago. I had been at CRF™ for five months. What I remember about that gala is the controversy I unintentionally created with my closing remarks - I said that we are not a conservation organization, but grass-roots activists.

Tonight I’m putting that up front and stating it with intention – we are activists. And we should be proud of that. What does it mean to be “an activist” – it means committing to change, committing to reform – doing this through decision and energy.

CRF has been working with decision and energy over the years. To save and protect our endangered corals, to repopulate our degraded reefs, to rebuild the Florida Reef Tract, to share our knowledge, to inspire, to educate, to show that each individual can make a difference in the world.

Decision and energy.

- - -

Just a few highlights from the last six years:

  • Carysfort 2020 – starting here at the Ocean Reef Club…. Through the visionary partnership with the Ocean Reef Club, we launched a project to restore Carysfort reef - at the time, the largest coral restoration project in the world.

  • Today it is hard for people to appreciate how bold and visionary this project was. Nothing of such a large scale had ever been attempted.

  • And you know what – together we were successful.

  • This work showed that large scale restoration was possible AND it became a template for future projects.

  • It was a global foundation for change. It inspired hope.

  • Which leads us to…

  • Mission Iconic Reefs….

    • The US’ ambitious effort to restore seven iconic reefs here in the Florida keys

    • CRF™ has been integral in the planning and execution of this amazing project.

    • But what most people don’t know is that Mission Iconic Reefs would not have been possible without Carysfort 2020… the work that we did together here at The Club was the foundation for Mission Iconic Reefs…

  • And these works in turn have catalyzed new mega-projects around the world from Australia to Saudi Arabia – massive restoration projects at unprecedented scales.


Decision and energy. Each of these projects is built on the foundation of hope that the earlier projects provided. One brick adding to another brick; one coral being added to the reef at a time. CRF™ was at the start of this chain of events, outplanting its first coral and tackling what others said was an impossibly large problem. Inspiring hope.

I’m frequently asked why was CRF™ successful when others were not? First, we’re a little crazy – passionate in our belief that everyone can change the world. But seriously, the answer is simple: our focus is on people and collaboration. Restoring coral reefs – changing the world for that matter – is a community event. We all need to work on this together.

  • CRF™ co-founded the Coral Restoration Consortium – an international movement of 3,000 members working tirelessly to save and restore coral reefs around the world.

  • We co-host Reef Futures – the world’s only conference dedicated to SOLUTIONS for coral restoration – not merely talking about the problem, but working to make a difference.

  • 1000s participate in person and virtualy for a biennial event hosted here at Ocean Reef Club.

Decision and energy, committed to change. Yes, I am proud to say we are activisits….

- - -

As you’ve probably noticed, tonight I’m not talking about corals, but the people – the community – of change.

Underlying all of this work are people – connecting with people, inspiring people, working together to tackle seemingly impossible problems and changing the world.

At the end of the day, the number of corals doesn’t matter – what seems like a large number today, will be trivial tomorrow. What does matter is how we get there. By focusing on collaboration, on people, on inspiration, on making connections, on being part of a community.


- - -

This concept of serving our community – of freely offering our help and knowledge – is at CRF’s heart, it is part of our DNA.


Knowledge should be given away if we want to change the world. CRF gives away all we’ve discovered, our innovations, our knowledge. From the invention of the coral tree, to new technologies in photomosaics, through knowledge sharing and education. We believe, that the problem is too big for any one organization to solve – but… the problem is small when compared to the power of diverse individuals.

The whole point is to put power into the hands of people that can use it – people that are on the front line and changing their world.

  • If we want to save coral reefs around the world, then we need to inspire local communities AND provide them with resources to be successful.

  • Success comes from people protecting what’s in their backyard.

- - -


So, what is the future of Coral Restoration Foundation™?

What are the big challenges for coral restoration around the world?

Six years ago, it was raising awareness of the problem and proving that we could do restoration at ecologically meaningful scales. Awareness and hope for success were the goals – which I believe have been achieved. Consequently, we have seen the rise of mega-restoration projects. Giant projects – just beginning - with huge dollar amounts, focused on large-scale restoration:

  • Mission Iconic Reefs in the U.S. with an estimated cost of $100 million.

  • Australia investing nearly $400 million to protect and restore the great barrier reef.

  • The U.S. government’s Department of Defense effort – Reef Fence – to use coral restoration to protect military bases.

  • Massive projects in Saudi Arabia and the middle east.

  • And the formation of the International Coral Restoration Fund with nearly $700 million for coral restoration around the world.


An amazing set of accomplishments in six short years.

But now - NOW - we need to step back and remind ourselves WHY coral restoration is important. Why does it matter? Why is CRF™ relevant?

Coral restoration is important because it is NOT about the corals. You heard me right, it is NOT about the corals… it’s about people, it is about livelihoods and it is about community.

Please don’t misunderstand me (I’m not trying to start another controversy), we are deeply concerned about saving endangered species and protecting the planet’s most fragile ecosystem. But WHY are we concerned?

It’s not because we want to keep corals in a display, or an aquarium, or create living museums. It’s because coral reefs are integral – essential – to the communities where they are. It’s about people – their happiness, their livelihood, their future… our way of life. What better example than “here” where Reef is central to the name.

So while I’m excited about the mega-projects and the vast sums of money that are being directed toward coral reef restoration… we have to keep in sight that we’re doing this for local communities.

The majority of the world’s coral reefs are found in low-GDP, economically challenged nations without policies, infrastructure or expertise to restore their reefs – and thus protect their way of life. As a result there is a serious risk that divisions of equity, equality and access will be widened in the coming years … rather than closed. The communities that are most dependent on their coral reefs for their livelihood and identity will continue to be at risk. And that’s not just around the world – that includes our community here in the Florida keys.

Coral Restoration needs to be about building resiliency while closing gaps in poverty, diversity and inclusion. Coral reefs are a global treasure for all peoples.



In many parts of the world, local communities are passionate about saving their reefs. What is needed is a mechanism to provide funds and support to those projects led and managed by people within the local communities.

We can’t throw large sums of money at the problem to “science” our way out of it. We need to inspire hope in local communities – in individuals – and provide them with the tools and resources to catalyze change.

The next phase for coral restoration – and the Coral Restoration Foundation – is to work diligently – with decision and energy – to be an ally and keep local and indigenous communities at the forefront of the discourse.

CRF will do this by continuing to do what we do best – inspiring hope – combined with freely giving away the infrastructure so local communities can rebuild what is in their back yard. We’ll work to help close the funding gaps, by bridging capital, resources and people where needed.



We will continue to rewrite the narrative, where success is no longer measured by “how many corals were


outplanted” but how resilient the local community is, how much money is brought into and stays in the local economy, and how the quality of life can be improved for future generations.., by valuing local coral reefs.

Coral restoration isn’t just about the corals… it’s about community!


- - -

"As CRF’s influence has expanded globally, I’m frequently asked “what about the Florida keys”?

Let me be unambiguously clear, the Coral Restoration Foundation isn’t going anywhere. We will be here – in the keys – outplanting corals, day in and day out. Using this – our backyard - to inspire hope and change around the world. This is our community! HERE is the example for the world.

So, I’ve tried to emphasize two things tonight:

  • CRF’s mission is to inspire hope. Showing that anyone can change the world, one small action at a time.

  • And, that coral restoration – is also about community. Equity, resiliency and quality of life.

So, what will be CRF’s legacy?

That’s simple for me… it is not the number of corals we’ve outplanted… but the people – the community – we’ve touched.

  • Interns – 286 interns, the future change makers of tomorrow

  • Volunteers – 445 people working with us, day-in and day-out to make the world a better place

  • Dive programs – 3,261 people have experienced the magic of Florida reefs through CRF

  • Students – through our national platform, over 45,000 students have been inspired. They have been shown that no matter what their background, they too can make a difference and change the world.

Our legacy is the people that we have inspired - people that will change the world and do far more than we could ever dream. These people – CRF’s expanding community - are our legacy.

Thank you all again for being part of this journey and part of our community, and providing hope to so many."



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