Climate Change

Coral Reefs Endangered

Coral reefs protect against flooding, and coral is used in the creation of heart disease and cancer drugs.
By: | November 3, 2015 • 3 min read

A “global coral bleaching event” is underway, according to ocean scientists. It is only the third one in recorded history.

Coral reefs — fragile but complex underwater ecosystems that often are called “the rainforest of the sea” – help dissipate wave energy by as much as 90 percent during storms, making them an important barrier to coastal flooding.


“When coral is stressed by changes in conditions such as temperature, light or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

If the algae loss is prolonged, the coral eventually dies, it said.

“Coral reefs are like canaries in a coal mine.” — Chip Cunliffe, external programs manager, XL Catlin

In addition to helping protect communities from flooding, coral reefs also help support approximately 25 percent of all marine species and affect the livelihoods of 500 million people and income worth more than $30 billion generated by industries such as fishing and tourism.

Coral is also used in the pharmaceutical industry to make drugs that treat some heart disease and cancers.

Chip Cunliffe, external programs manager, XL Catlin

Chip Cunliffe, external programs manager, XL Catlin

“Coral reefs are like canaries in a coal mine,” said Chip Cunliffe, XL Catlin’s external programs manager. “Oceans are changing, fairly rapidly, so we think. We as a business are intent on trying to understand the impact of these changes.”

One sobering reason to be concerned about the loss of coral reefs, Cunliffe said, is that property damage from wave action in Bermuda would increase from $500 million to $2 billion over 10 years if its coral reefs were lost.

“And that’s just Bermuda,” he said. “Look at Florida or Australia … places that have big financial centers or population. You’re looking at major losses.”

The world’s coral reefs are in a dramatic state of decline — more than 40 percent of the world’s coral has been lost over the last 30 years due to pollution, destructive fishing and climate change. What’s worse, scientists said, is the decline is expected to continue.

“What really has us concerned is this [coral-bleaching] event has been going on for over a year and is likely to last another year,” said Dr. Mark Eakin, NOAA coral reef watch coordinator.

“We know changes are occurring,” said Mike Maran, chief scientist at XL Catlin, which was a member of the scientific consortium that confirmed the coral bleaching event. “What we don’t know is the speed at which they are changing. We need to have forward insight. This contributes to that data.”

XL Catlin launched a Seaview Survey mission in 2012 to scientifically record the world’s coral reefs and reveal them in high-resolution, 360-degree panoramic images.

The world’s coral reefs are in a dramatic state of decline — more than 40 percent of the world’s coral has been lost over the last 30 years due to pollution, destructive fishing and climate change.

A 30-member team has spent the last three years surveying 32 reefs in 26 countries, including the entire length of the Great Barrier Reef, the remote Coral Sea, the Caribbean islands and Bermuda, and the waters of Southeast Asia. More than 1 million high-definition images have been recorded.

NOAA has been working with the XL Catlin Seaview Survey team to gather the data needed to better understand the extent of this bleaching event and how to effectively address it, Eakin said.

Cunliffe said it is appropriate XL Catlin is taking such a prominent role in the research, considering the whole concept of insurance was developed in the 17th century by Lloyd’s of London to protect against losses in the shipping industry.

“This is a link back to that,” he said. “We need more data to understand the complex risks that we are underwriting.

“What really has us concerned is this [coral-bleaching] event has been going on for over a year and is likely to last another year.” — Dr. Mark Eakin, coral reef watch coordinator, NOAA

“We know more about the moon than we do our own oceans,” Cunliffe said. “We’ve only mapped 1.5 percent of the sea floor. We know very little other than change is happening quickly.

“It’s necessary for us as a business to fill that data gap.”


By monitoring the reefs over time, Cunliffe said, the survey will help scientists, policymakers and the public at large understand the issues reefs are facing and work out what needs to be done to protect them now and into the future.

While the coral bleaching event probably won’t change rating models for now, the data will provide a valuable baseline that can be used for the next 20 years to assess how risk is going to change and how to advise clients to mitigate those risks.

The Seaview Survey is XL Catlin’s second major scientific sponsorship. It also sponsored an Arctic Survey that investigated sea-loss ice in the Arctic Ocean between 2009 and 2011.

Joe Ferry is a long-time newspaper reporter, based in the Philadelphia area. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]