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Overdue reef restoration bill goes into Congress

Has the time arrived when serious discussions lead to actions that will turn around the health of oceans and waterways so critical to our industry’s future?

It’s often hard to wrap our heads around the extent of our waterways’ problems, ranging from algae blooms to plastic pollution. On the latter subject alone, reading Reagan Haynes’ excellent report, Culture of Disposability, in the August issue of Soundings Trade Only is an eye opener.

In addition, we’ve blogged here many times about the need to address the annual slime-time algae debacle in countless waterways these days. Now, add to the list the dying coral reefs, including unprecedented levels of bleaching in the Pacific and widespread wreckage from disease in the Atlantic, and we have serious problems calling for serious answers.

Some good news today is that Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) recently got a direct look at the problem. “I saw the devastated condition of our coral reefs firsthand when touring the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in February,” Rubio said, “and I promised a comprehensive response.”

The result is the introduction of the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2019.” It is bipartisan and bicameral legislation that would reauthorize and modernize the “Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000.”

Yes, you ‘ll start rolling your eyes when I tell you that critically needed act was allowed to expire 15 years ago. Where has Congress been during those 15 years, you ask? Answer: Mostly exchanging nasty looks, raspberries and assorted hand gestures!

Bringing the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act” back would promote the conservation of our coral reefs by authorizing five years of directed federal funding and technical assistance to targeted states for the restoration and management of coral reef ecosystems. Further, it encourages innovative new Coral Reef Stewardship Partnerships among resource management agencies, research centers, and community stakeholders, while updating the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF).

The USCRTF was actually established in 1998 by Presidential Executive Order to lead efforts to preserve and protect our coral reef ecosystems. It includes leaders of 12 Federal agencies, 7 States, Territories and Commonwealths, and three Freely Associated States. Essentially, the USCRTF is tasked with building partnerships, strategies and support for on-the-ground action to conserve coral reefs.

Coral reefs are more than just fish nurseries and tourist attractions, although that would be reason enough to restore them. They actually provide a wide range of cultural, ecological and economic benefits. For example, reefs provide vital shoreline protection for states like Hawaii and Florida, the latter noteworthy now since we’re in hurricane season, which means Florida’s motto changes from the “Sunshine State” to the “Plywood State.”

Seriously, this legislation could provide tools, funding and pathways for implementing best science and management actions supporting restoration of coral reefs. And, while we most often think of reefs in Florida or Hawaii, other places like Puerto Rico should come to mind.

“Reefs serve as natural barriers against storms and flooding, thus working as a shield to our coastal zones,” emphasizes Representative Jennifer González-Colón (R-PR) who, along with Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL), has introduced the bill in the House. “Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused huge devastation in Puerto Rico but we must continue to recover and ensure we take preventive measures for future weather events,” she added.

Support for the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act” by our industry’s national and state organizations should be among our priorities. While it might be easy to overlook coral reefs if you’re in middle America (yes, there are no reefs in Kansas, Dorothy), it’s important to think total industry because it will take the power of engagement by everyone to keep tackling the variety of current threats to the waterways our customers need all over the country.

Additional current sponsors of the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act” include: Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Rick Scott (R-FL), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI). Representatives Darren Soto (D-FL) and Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR) lead the companion bill on the House side with additional cosponsors Charlie Crist (D-FL), Brian Mast (R-FL), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). A summary of the bill is available here and a section by section is available here

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