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Ulrike Pfreundt , co-founder & head of science and development at rrreefs, Swisspreneur Podcast

EP #315 - Ulrike Pfreundt: Bringing Coral Reefs Back To Life

Ulrike Pfreundt

April 13, 2023

9:30 - The effect of climate change on coral rrreefs

14:54 - 3D printed terracotta clay 

17:46 - Testing the product, having a breakdown

28:18 - How rrreefs makes money

38:12 - Tackling reef destruction at the source

About Ulrike Pfreundt:

Ulrike is the co-founder and Head of Science and Development at rrreefs, a startup rebuilding coral reefs to restore marine biodiversity and protect coast lines. She holds a PhD in Molecular Genetics/Experimental Bioinformatics and was previously a Postdoctoral Fellow of Biological Oceanography at ETH, before creating rrreefs in 2020.

What causes damage to coral reefs?

  • Local stressors like agricultural run-off, which sometimes infects corals with viruses;
  • Overfishing, since fishes are crucial pieces of the reef ecosystem;
  • Climate change: warming temperatures warm the waters. Waters that stay warm for too long kill reefs, because the algae that feed the corals become toxic under warmer temperatures.

It’s estimated that we’ve already lost 50% of all coral reefs on planet Earth. This is truly tragic, because they harbor ⅓ of all species that exist in the ocean, and are essential for industries like pharma, beauty, etc. In the pharma industry, for example, byproducts of the coral reef ecosystem are used for drugs against bacteria, viruses, pain, and even cancer. 

rrreefs tackles this issue by building modular systems of 3D-printed terracotta bricks which, when “implanted”, ​​create a new habitat for about 20000 reef animals smaller than 0.5mm for each m3. Every reef is built in collaboration with local stakeholders and all reef material is 100% plastic free and free of additives. Their reefs are proven to increase fish abundance and diversity by providing shelter for adult and juvenile fish, and the rrreefs team continuously integrates results from scientific experiments to improve their reef system.

rrreefs began their operations by crowdfunding, and after that accepted donations from companies and grants from foundations. In 2023, the rrreefs foundation is becoming an AG and starting to raise capital, targeting companies that want to foster a reef as part of their sustainability portfolio. Why just plant trees, when you can also foster coral reefs? Companies can sponsor their very own reef or sponsor part of a communal reef, and they can also add on a data & storytelling subscription to know how their reef is evolving. rrreefs’ medium to long term goal is to eventually create reef credits which will be tokenized and work as financial assets.

Memorable quote:

"We’ve probably lost around 50% of all coral reefs already. These reefs harbor ⅓ of all species that live in the ocean."

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