Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the “Reusing Equipment for Environmental Fortification (REEF) Act,” which is backed by the Florida delegation in the U.S. House, in the upper chamber.
U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, R-Fla., introduced the REEF Act in the House last month with U.S. Rep. Ed Case, D-Hi., as the main co-sponsor. Salazar was able to roll the proposal into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which cleared the House last month.
“ The REEF Act encourages the Navy to prioritize the repurposing of retired vessels into artificial reefs to reinforce marine environments and create both recreational and economic opportunities. The bill would ensure that Congress is given advance notice when a vessel is expected to be retired, providing Congress with additional oversight and opportunities to seek the transfer of eligible vessels to state and local governments for artificial reefing purposes,” Rubio‘s office noted.
“Florida’s marine ecosystems are of vital importance to the state’s biodiversity, economy and way of life,” Rubio said. “The REEF Act would create new opportunities to utilize retiring navy ships as artificial reefs to the benefit of marine life and Florida’s tourism-based economy.”
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is co-sponsoring the bill that was sent to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee last week.
“Anglers and ecologists alike understand that supplying fish and other marine life with new habitats is great not only for the environment, but also for the local economies that rely upon fishing and diving,” Wicker said. “Providing a new pathway for retired naval vessels to become artificial reefs is a great way that Congress can come together to support our coastal communities.”
“In my home state of Florida, we say that the environment is the economy, and the economy is the environment. The REEF Act is a boon for both,” said Salazar when the bill was included in the NDAA. “Artificial reefs create recreational opportunities, which produce millions in revenue for local coastal economies. Perhaps most notably, the REEF Act allows our veterans to see their former ships laid to rest at sea, rather than sold for scrap. As a fierce supporter of our men and women in uniform, I am proud to introduce legislation that ensures the legacy of our retired military vessels will live on.”
“As a representative from a coastal district, I know first-hand that we must do more to support our marine ecosystems,” said Salazar when she introduced the bill. “I’m proud to introduce a bill that gives us the opportunity to accomplish that by giving our retired navy ships a new purpose, all while creating new recreational opportunities for fishermen and divers that boost local economies.”
“Creating artificial reefs using excess naval vessels can help restore and preserve our fragile ocean ecosystem and create opportunities for those who want to explore the biodiversity that would surround a sunken structure,” said Case. “There are a number of structures, including small boats and planes, in waters off my home state of Hawaii that both restore our threatened marine ecosystem and draw those who want to experience our marine life up-close and understand how it must be preserved. Our bill will expand on these opportunities in Hawai‘i and elsewhere.”
Members of the Florida delegation–including Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Matt Gaetz, Carlos Gimenez, Brian Mast, John Rutherford, Greg Steube, Michael Waltz and Dan Webster and Democrats U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy–lined up behind the proposal. So did the Florida Wildlife Commission, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, the National Association of Charter Boat Operators, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Center for Sport Fishing Policy, the Panama City Boatman Association, the American Sportfishing Association and the International Game Fish Association.