This week, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., announced the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act” was included in the version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which the U.S. House passed last week.
Soto and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. have been working on the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act,” a proposal to update and reauthorize the “Coral Reef Conservation Act,” which expired 15 years ago.
Back in the summer of 2019, Rubio, Soto and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., joined with U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hi., U.S. Sen. Mazi Hirono, D-Hi., and U.S. Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón, R-PR. to bring out the “Restoring Resilient Reefs Act” to reauthorize the old law. Other backers included then U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla.
Rubio was the chief sponsor in the Senate while Soto introduced it in the House and the two men reintroduced the proposal at the start of 2021. While the U.S. Senate passed the bill at the end of 2020 the measure did not gain much traction in the U.S. House and failed to cross the finish line.
“The Coral Reef Conservation Act, which expired more than 15 years ago, was designed to promote the conservation of our nation’s reefs. In recent years, the decline in the nation’s coral reefs has only become more severe. 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. 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,” Rubio’s office noted.
“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 at the start of last year.“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.”
Many of the same members of Congress that backed the bill before continue to support it, including in the Florida delegation.
“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.”
“Coral reefs play a critical role in protecting coastal communities from hurricanes and devastating flooding,” said Mast. “Restoring and conserving these reefs will also promote healthier ecosystems, protect aquatic habitats and support our marine life. That’s what this bill is all about.”
When first introduced, the proposal garnered the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state leaders.
“Florida depends on our coral reefs. Not only are they essential to the health of our marine ecosystem, they are vital to coastal resiliency, stand as the first line of defense against storm surge in Southeast Florida and play a key role in our tourism economy,” said DeSantis in support of the 2019 push. “I applaud Senator Rubio’s advocacy for this important resource and look forward to the opportunity this support would provide to help preserve, sustain and restore the condition of Florida’s coral reefs.”
The House passed the $858 billion NDAA last week on a 350-80 vote and is now before the Senate.
“Our Florida coral reefs are national treasures that contain part of the most diverse ecosystems on planet Earth,” said Soto this week. “Time and time again, we’ve witnessed how the effects of climate change, overfishing, pollution, and development have threatened the vitality of coral reefs around our coasts. I’m thankful that our legislation was included in the FY23 NDAA and will help protect our environment – specifically our precious habitats for marine life. I look forward to seeing key federal programs reauthorized and funded to help stop the deterioration of our coral reefs. In Florida, our way of life certainly depends on it.”
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