FORT PIERCE, Fla. — There could be some new hope to protect the health of our coral reefs.
A bipartisan group of U.S Senators, including Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, is supporting a bill that would ramp up funding and partnerships aimed at preserving a most delicate and vulnerable resource off Florida's coast.
According to Rubio's office, Scott and Rubio, along with U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz of Hawaii, reintroduced the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2021.
It aims to reauthorize and update the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, which expired nearly 15 years ago.
It was designed to support preserving the nation’s reefs, strengthening NOAA's Coral Reef program, and giving tools and resources to the communities closest to American coral reefs.
The bill passed the Senate in 2020, but stalled in the House.
Several congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., introduced companion legislation in the House.
"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," according to Rubio's office. "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."
Dr. Brian Lapointe, a research professor with FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Society, has been researching the coral reefs in the Florida Keys for three decades. He said politics needs to stay out of the way of science to protect the nearly extinct chain of coral reefs off of the Florida coast. He hopes legislation prioritizes putting funds where they are most needed.
"We're down to about 2% living coral cover," Lapointe said. "We're losing these at such an alarming rate and of course they have beneficial effects to us humans: Fisheries, tourism, protection of shorelines, a source of biodiversity for future drug and pharmaceutical development."
Rubio said the 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," Rubio said.
Scott said he's "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," Scott said.