August 02, 2019

Senators Hirono, Schatz, Rubio, Scott Introduce Legislation to Restore, Conserve Coral Reefs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would promote the conservation of coral reefs in the United States. The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2019 would reauthorize and modernize the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, which expired fifteen years ago. U.S. Representatives Darren Soto (D-Fla.) and Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Coral reefs provide essential ecosystem services to not only our oceans, but also to our island and coastal communities. The long-term ecological and economic impacts of coral bleaching pose serious threats to our way of life,” Senator Hirono said. “The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act would provide important tools to preserve and sustain the condition of our coral reef ecosystems through community-based management programs. Our bill is a step in the right direction to ensuring that communities that depend on healthy oceans, like those in Hawaii, have the resources they need for protecting coral reefs.”

“From never-before-seen levels of bleaching in the Pacific, to unprecedented devastation from disease in the Atlantic, corals reefs need urgent help. Our bill gives local governments and communities the federal resources to help save Hawaii’s corals,” Senator Schatz said.

“I saw the devastated condition of our coral reefs firsthand when touring the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in February, and I promised a comprehensive response,” Senator Rubio said. “This important bipartisan bill will ensure federal agencies are partnering effectively with state and local governments, as well as the communities who rely on the vitality of these critical habitats. Florida’s Reef Tract is an integral component of the economic and ecological character of Florida, and the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2019 will ensure future generations will be able to enjoy this natural wonder.”

“People from across the world come to Florida because of the state’s natural beauty. During my eight years as Governor, Florida’s annual investments to preserve the environment increased by $1 billion to make sure future generations can enjoy all that Florida has to offer. Today, I’m proud to join Senator Rubio, Senator Schatz, Senator Hirono and our colleagues in the House to introduce the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2019, which will build on our efforts and help restore and protect our coral reef ecosystems,” Senator Scott said. 

“The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2019 would provide critical support to conserve and restore Hawaii’s coral reefs at a time when predictions indicate Hawaii is headed toward another major coral bleaching event this summer. Coral reefs provide a wide range of cultural, ecological and economic benefits. Also, reefs provide vital shoreline protection for Hawaii, which is especially relevant now during hurricane season.  This Legislation provides the critical tools, funding and a pathway for implementing the best science and management actions to support the persistence and restoration of coral reefs,” Suzanne Case, Chair of the State of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources, said.

The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act would authorize five years of directed federal funding and technical assistance to states for the restoration and management of coral reef ecosystems. The bill would:

  • Reauthorize restoration activities to coral reef ecosystems that have been degraded due to natural disasters and human activities;
  • Incentivize public-private partnerships that foster proper management of coral reef ecosystems;
  • Support improved capacity-building at the federal, state, and local levels;
  • Enhance assessment and reporting procedures to document, measure, and analyze effective planning, management, and restoration outcomes; and
  • Provide funding to ensure rapid and effective responses to coral reef emergencies including disease outbreaks, invasive species, coral bleaching, natural disasters, vessel groundings, hazardous spills, and coastal construction accidents.

The bill also updates the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and would provide the Secretary of the Interior with the authority to provide scientific expertise, technical assistance, and financial assistance for management and restoration activities consistent with the bill.

In June, Senator Hirono and Representative Ed Case (D-Hawaii) introduced the Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act of 2019 that would support practices to preserve, sustain, and restore coral reef ecosystems. Earlier that month, Senator Hirono also announced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) awarded over $3.8 million in federal funding to projects that support ongoing coastal and marine research, extension, and educational outreach in Hawaii.

The full text of the legislation is available here. An executive summary and a section-by-section breakdown of the bill are available here and here.