On January 26, 2021, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Rick Scott (R-FL), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) reintroduced the bipartisan Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2021 (S. 46).
“I saw the devastated condition of our coral reefs firsthand when touring the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and I promised a comprehensive response,” 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. I thank my Senate colleagues for passing my bill last Congress, and I am hopeful that both the House and Senate can quickly approve this legislation so it can become law,” he added.
First introduced in August 2019, the bill would reauthorize and modernize the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, strengthen NOAA’s Coral Reef program, and give innovative new tools and resources to the non-federal partners who are closest to the crisis in American coral reefs: states, territories, and local communities.
“Our Florida coral reefs are a national treasure that contain part of the most diverse ecosystems on earth,” Representative Soto said.
“We’ve witnessed how the effects of climate change, overfishing, pollution and development have threatened the vitality of coral reefs around our coasts. Protecting our environment, specifically preserving the precious habitats for marine life, should not have an expiration date. That’s why this bipartisan, bicameral legislation is key to reauthorizing existing federal programs and continuing the desperately needed programs halting the deterioration of coral reefs. Our Florida way of life depends on the health of our environment,” Soto continued.
The bill unanimously passed the Senate in December 2020, but stalled in the House at the end of the 116th Congress. U.S. Representatives Darren Soto (R-FL), Ed Case (D-HI), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Brian Mast (R-FL), Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR), and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS) have introduced companion legislation (H.R. 160) in the House.
The Coral Reef Conservation Act, which expired more than 15 years ago, was designed to promote the conservation of our nation’s reefs.
“During my time as Governor of Florida, we worked to increase investments in our environment by $1 billion to preserve and protect our natural resources,” Scott said.
“I’m proud to join Senators Rubio, Hirono and Schatz to reintroduce the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act, which will build on our efforts and help restore and protect our coral reef ecosystems. I will continue working to make sure future generations can enjoy all that Florida has to offer,” he added.
The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act directs federal funding and technical assistance to states for the restoration and management of coral reef ecosystems, while incentivizing increased state and local investment in coral reef management capacity.
“Ocean warming and acidification have pushed our corals to the brink of extinction,” Schatz said. “Time is running out, but we can save them if we act now. Our bill deploys federal resources to the local governments and community organizations that are in the water right now working to restore our reefs.”
The bill encourages innovative public-private Coral Reef Stewardship Partnerships among agencies, research centers, and community stakeholders; codifies and updates the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force; ensures that our national coral strategy is informed by a robust local stakeholder engagement process; and allows for emergency grants for coral disasters, among other measures.
“Protecting coral reefs is inherent to protecting our way of life in Hawaii,” Hirono said.
“The resources provided by this bill are urgently needed by local managers as threats to corals continue to increase. I am hopeful that we can build upon the momentum generated by this bill passing the Senate late last year and get it signed into law this Congress,” she concluded.
In recent years, the decline in the nation’s coral reefs has only become more severe.