We have long heard about future perils to our coasts due to climate change, but the allure of the ocean views and mild weather keeps pulling us to the shores. This is especially true in Florida, where despite the constant threats of hurricanes, communities keep growing with a population approaching 20 million. Insurance companies are at particular risk because of that continued growth and development along with future climate volatility. One hurdle confronting insurers, however, is that only about 5 percent of climate change science research is actually focused on oceans. Catlin Group, a US$4 billion insurance and reinsurance company, has been taking steps to change that.
The company is sponsoring the Catlin Seaview Survey, a scientific initiative that aims to create a baseline record of the globe’s coral reefs. By filming these reefs in high-definition, panoramic vision, the organization’s goal is to have data readily available so scientists, the general public and governmental officials can gauge the challenges our reefs are confronting due to fishing, pollution and of course, climate change. The latest project is now underway in Florida.
The Catlin Seaview Survey is now partnering with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to research and record the state of marine sanctuaries off of America’s coasts. The first joint expedition is a study with Florida International University to evaluate the reefs within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Scientists from Australia and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries are also involved in the effort; Google Maps technology will allow the public to access the photographs online. Such an undertaking is hardly cheap: So why is the Catlin Group involved?
“As a leading insurer and reinsurer, we believe that further factual research into climate change is essential to the insurance industry’s ability to continue helping our clients manage risks in the years to come,” says Stephen Catlin, chief executive of Catlin Group. “The impartial scientific data gathered by Catlin-sponsored research programs aim to strengthen our understanding of how changes in the oceans may impact the rest of the planet.”
Such research is an important long-term business prerogative for Catlin and its competitors. The oceans are one part of our global geography that still begs for further understanding. More concrete knowledge of how our oceans are changing can help Catlin when it comes to advising clients about potential long-term risks when investing in regions such as Florida and the southeastern United States. And an even better grasp of how coral reefs can be protected, which would in the long term offer a buffer from storm surges and erosion, could help mitigate future risks.
Florida is the perfect test bed for this work: It is the only U.S. state with expansive coral reef formations close to its shores; in fact, the Sunshine State hosts the third largest barrier reef ecosystem on Earth. But it’s important to remember this work goes beyond bolstering an insurance firm’s portfolio. Tourism is a huge part of Florida’s economy — the continued loss of coral reefs will wipe out local economies, too.
Image credit: Catlin Seaview Survey