Unifimoney x The Ocean Foundation: Save a Beach While You Spend and Save

You’ve seen it in a hundred different credit card commercials: a beautiful family frolics on a white sand beach, dangling the promise that you could be this happy too if you just spent wildly with [insert Big Bank name here]. The entirely non-ironic path to affluence being it suggests through spending — Points! Miles! Joy!

When designing our credit card at Unifimoney, we decided against making yet another metal credit card masquerading as exclusive that’ll promise you bountiful rewards while giving you difficult-to-use and often unredeemed fake currency “points.”

Instead, we partnered with The Ocean Foundation and CPI Card Group to make a card from recovered ocean-bound plastic that helps keeps plastic waste from waterways, delivers valuable cashback, and supports incredible ocean environmental projects all around the globe.

Each purchase with the Unifimoney credit card makes an automatic donation to The Ocean Foundation, so we want to regularly update our users on the incredible work their swipes are supporting. Instead of spending millions on advertisements with vague promises of beach bliss, we’ve designed a card that actively works to save the beaches in paradise for that moment you’re ready to travel again.

The Problem

Sargassum is a brown macroalgae that inhabits shallow waters and coral reefs in the temperate and tropical oceans of the world. In healthier times, Sargassum can create important ecosystems in the open ocean, but in recent years, a mass inundation of Sargassum in the Caribbean has threatened tourism, the fishing industry, and the health of the tropical ecosystem.

In 2018, Barbados declared a national emergency due to the influx of Sargussum — the brown algae entangled and killed sea turtles and dolphins, kept fishermen from the sea, smothered coral reefs, and washed ashore, drying and rotting on the once-pristine Caribbean beaches. The algae threaten sea life in the area, and also the health of the coastal communities. Tourism at the pristine white sand beaches from the Big Bank commercials is down 30% in the Caribbean due to the Sargussum infestation.

The Solution

Last year, The Ocean Foundation got involved by partnering with Grogenics and AlgeaNova. Together, they have created a carbon insetting program that sustainably utilizes large-scale Sargassum strandings for the production of compost and biochar for organic agriculture in Miches, Dominican Republic.

The concept is a multi-front solution to a difficult problem: the partnership removes nuisance Sargassum seaweed from the coastal oceans before it can inundate tourist beaches and damages sea life in impacted Caribbean coastal areas while simultaneously sequestering and storing carbon through soil building using seaweed-derived agricultural inputs.

  • Benefit to Local Farmers: The program saves money for the islands’ agriculture sector by creating a local, organic fertilizer and compost. As long as it is properly cleaned and dried, Sargassum contains many useful nutrients that promote healthy soil and help with weed control.
  • Relatively Low-Cost Solution: Collecting the Sargassum in the water lowers the impact on the beaches and cuts the environmental and economic impact of the cleanup. Once the algae reach the beach, cleanup is costly and creates massive erosion on the sand.
  • Addressing Climate Change: The program creates an effective means to sequester and store carbon. The eventual goal is to generate certified carbon credits using sargassum-based products through the application of Verified Carbon Standard’s methodology related to the adoption of sustainable agricultural land management.

Why Miches?

Miches is a small town on the northeastern coast of the Dominican Republic. 55.6% of the 21,000 residents live in poverty and 9.4% suffer from extreme poverty. The area’s economy runs on agriculture, cattle-raising, artisanal fishing, micro-business services and artisanal crafts; Miches relies entirely on its coastline and its soil.

The local farmers often struggle with their yield and are forced to sell their crops through intermediaries, which cuts down on their profits. By delivering a local, nutrient-rich soil from the Sargussum compost, The Ocean Foundation/Grogenics/AlgeaNova partnership has helped to increase harvest, allowing the farmers to increase their yields. They’ve also helped to connect them directly with local buyers, cutting out the intermediaries that have kept the local farmers from profiting off their harvest.

The program is meant to serve as a demonstration of how an environmental program can be both economically and socially responsible. The Sargussum can be kept from the Caribbean beaches, helping restart the tourism economy. The Sargussum can be turned into nutrient-rich compost to help spur the organic farming capabilities. And the Sargussum harvesters — small farmers and local women networks — can turn a pollutant that existentially threatened their local economies into a sustainable business, increasing demand for a secure, local supply chain for healthy organic food.

The Plan Going Forward

Photo by Solidarity Center/Ricardo Rojas

The Ocean Foundation is committed to using this program as a model for a wider solution to the damaging Sargassum problem, so they’re committed to tracking and sharing information about the program’s success. Here is what they’ve done so far and the plan going forward:

  • Harvest and Deliver the Sargassum Compost. Transport Sargassum compost from the partnership’s site in Punta Cana to establish the gardens and farms in Miches, Dominican Republic.
  • Execute Insetting. Estimated yields indicate twenty farmers will be able to provide organic food for their families after the first phase, with an average family household of four members each, benefiting approximately 80 people. As it is customary to share the harvest with other families, neighbors will also indirectly benefit. The surplus of fresh and healthy vegetables and fruits will be sold locally.
  • Track Carbon Intake of the Soil. Results will be tracked using a defined group of indicators that will be measured pre-, during- and post-harvest, such as soil composition and quality, crop quality, carbon intake, plant vigor, presence of pests, etc. Comparing such measurements to a control or baseline group will allow the partnership to determine the extent of the impact the compost is having on the gardens.
  • Track the Socioeconomic Impact. They will conduct an initial baseline assessment of the socio-economic profiles of the beneficiaries, in order to be able to track their progress against such indicators. These results will be affected also by the capacity-building efforts undertaken by the initiative.
  • Create Photographic Evidence. Photographic records of all activities and the progress of the gardens will be used as supporting evidence.
  • Report Findings to Scale the Sargassum Solution. Develop a post-project report and disseminate results, which will be made available and shared with the broader community.

For Unifimoney, this project is the perfect example of an intelligent and creative solution to a difficult problem, one that protects the ocean, a local economy, and creates opportunities for communities that so desperately need them. It’s what makes us proud to partner with The Ocean Foundation.

For more information about The Ocean Foundation, check out their website!

And sign up for a Unifimoney account here!

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