March 18, 2016

Hirono, Takai Unveil Proposal To Increase Coral Reef Conservation

Legislation Creates Competitive Prizes To Spur Innovative Research

Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Representative Mark Takai (D-HI) introduced the Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act, legislation that would jumpstart research related to coral reef conservation.

“In the past two years, Hawaii’s coral reefs have experienced two serious coral bleaching events, and with rising ocean temperatures, we can expect these events to become more commonplace,” said Senator Hirono. “There is much to be learned about mitigation and the long term effects of coral bleaching, and this legislation will spur research to better protect this precious natural resource.”

“It is very important we do everything we can to conserve the precious coral reef our state is home to.  Through this legislation, we will promote innovative new ways we can protect our aina and a resource that is vital to Hawaii’s economy.  I look forward to seeing what the scientists come up with and the implementation of the winning design,” said Representative Takai.

Coral reef ecosystems are marine biodiversity hotspots that provide food for millions of people and also protect our shorelines from storms and erosion. Coral reefs in Hawaii alone are worth $385 million per year to the local economy and taking into account all of the services, they provide have a net present value of $10 billion.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has declared a worldwide coral bleaching event that will impact 95% of U.S. coral reefs, including reefs in Hawaii. Long-term coral bleaching leaves reefs vulnerable to disease outbreaks and death.

This no-cost bill would encourage the 12 federal agencies on the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, which includes NOAA, the Coast Guard, and the Department of Defense, to collaboratively use existing funds across agencies to carry out a competitive prize competition. The legislation also allows the Federal agencies to work with private entities to both fund and administer the prize competitions. Prize competitions that encourage public-private partnerships like this have a history of incentivizing innovative research that can be integrated into a Federal ocean management strategy.

The Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act is co-sponsored by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Representatives Donald Beyer (D-VA), Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Theodore Deutch (D-FL), Sam Farr (D-CA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

The University of Hawaii and the Ocean Conservancy support this legislation.

“The University of Hawaii, through the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), is investing in breakthrough research to advance the science and practice of coral reef conversation. As ocean temperatures rise and the oceans become more acidic, the science and conservation communities are rapidly working to assess the impacts of a changing climate on future coral reef health.  Spurred by an initial investment from Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Inc., HIMB is working with partners across the University and in the international community to develop a stockpile of highly resilient coral strains that could be used to recolonize dead reefs.  This type of innovation, facilitated through a private investment in the public good, is critical for adaptive and quick response to the changing ocean climate. The legislation proposed by Senator Hirono and Representative Takai opens up new opportunities for the development of public-private partnerships to save our coral reefs. The innovation incentive mechanism detailed in the legislation is a novel approach to bringing government agencies, private industry, and the research community together for public good,” said Chris E. Ostrander, Assistant Dean of Strategic Initiatives & External Relations of the Univeristy of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology.

“Ocean Conservancy applauds Senator Hirono and Representative Takai for their leadership in protecting coral reefs and the livelihoods that depend on them. Corals are under threat from ocean acidification, bleaching and warming and yet reef fisheries support thousands of our fishermen, and millions of Americans travel every year to marvel at the beauty of coral ecosystems. The Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act applies American ingenuity to tackle some of the most pressing problems our corals face,” said Julia Roberson, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Acidification Program.