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Florida Delegation Urges NOAA to Respond to Coral Bleaching

Last week, members of the Florida congressional delegation wrote Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Richard Spinrad urging him to invoke the provisions of their Restoring Resilient Reefs Act in response to recent coral bleaching in the Florida Reef. Corals in the Florida Reef Tract have recently been under stress due to a recent marine heatwave and the government has the authority to respond under provisions of the Coral Reef Conservation Act (CRCA).

In December 2022, the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act” was enacted into law, which reauthorized and reformed the CRCA for the first time since it expired in 2004. The bill, which had the strong support of the Florida delegation, included provisions that provide the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with the tools needed to respond to coral reef health.

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., signed the letter. So did U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., Kathy Castor, D-Fla., Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Fla., Neal Dunn, R-Fla., Scott Franklin, R-Fla., Carlos Gimenez, R-Fla., Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., John Rutherford, R-Fla., Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., Darren Soto, D-Fla., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Frederica Wilson, D-Fla.

The letter is below.

Dear Administrator Spinrad:

We write with grave concern for the health of the Florida Reef Tract, which is being afflicted by coral bleaching due to recent severe heat stress. We urge you to expeditiously use the emergency mechanisms available to you under the Coral Reef Conservation Act (CRCA) to maximize the efforts being undertaken by state and federal managers and their non-profit partners to identify and monitor continuing heat stress across the reef, maintain essential genetic diversity of coral populations, and plan for responsible reintroduction and restoration.

The Florida Reef Tract is the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world, offering critical ecological, economic, and ecosystem service benefits to South Florida. The reef is a haven for biologically diverse wildlife including endangered species, an economic engine for Florida’s tourism economy, and a natural defense for our coastal communities against hurricanes and storm surge. In recent weeks, the Florida Reef Tract has suffered from a severe marine heatwave leading to coral bleaching, further stressing this crucial ecological resource which has already been in decline for decades.

As you know, our Restoring Resilient Reefs Act (RRRA), which was enacted last December, reauthorized and reformed the CRCA for the first time in nearly twenty years. Among other reforms, the RRRA provides you with tools to respond to coral reef health emergencies caused by bleaching, disease, and other impacts. Specifically, sections 209 and 210 of the CRCA, as amended, authorizes you to mobilize federal resources, in coordination with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), on an emergency basis, to respond to exigent circumstances in the health of American coral reefs. We urge you to use available funds to fulfill these emergency response responsibilities and to consult with NFWF to identify existing funds that could be used to support the response of jurisdictional managers and coral restoration practitioners in the Florida Reef Tract, including available funds within the National Ocean and Coastal Security Fund.

Florida’s coral barrier reef is an irreplaceable resource which must be preserved and protected from this coral bleaching event. We ask that you use the resources and authorities available to you in a timely manner.


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