Soto Remarks Supporting the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2021

May 5, 2021
Press Release
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife held a virtual, fully remote hearing on H.R. 160, the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife hearing, Congressman Darren Soto (FL-09) spoke in support of his bill, H.R. 160, the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act of 2021. Congressman Soto introduced this bipartisan bill in January with Reps. Ed Case (D-HI), Stacey Plaskett (D-VI), Brian Mast (R-FL), Jenniffer González-Colon (R-PR)Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), and Daniel Webster (R-FL) along with most of the Florida congressional delegation. If passed, it 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 states, territories, and local communities.

Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery. 

“We have over 10 major coral reefs systems in the United States. America’s reefs are under threat like others across the world. It is fitting to review the challenges our reefs face in the Natural Resource Committee since some are in states, but so many more of America’s reefs are located in the territories. Here is an EPA Map:

EPA Map of Coral Reefs

These include:

The Great Florida Reef

  • Third largest coral barrier reef system in the world

The Hawaiian Coral Reef

  • A Massive 1200 mile reef system in the Central Pacific that account for about 85 percent of all coral reefs in the United States

In the Hawaiian Islands

  • Papahanaumokuakea (Pa-pa-hah-NOW-mo-koo-ah-keh-ah) Marine National Monument

In Texas and Louisiana

  • The Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is located 70 to 115 miles off their coasts

Puerto Rico has

  • The Isla Verde Coral Reef Marine Reserve – just off San Juan

Virgin Islands

  • Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument – a 3-mile coral belt off the island of St. John
    • The National Park of American Samoa
    • Is distributed on four volcanic islands including Tutuila Island

Northern Mariana Islands

  • Has the oldest, most developed reefs on southern islands and most diverse reefs in Saipan 

Guam

  • 42 square miles of reefs and Cora gardens surround the island along with other reefs in deeper waters

Pacific Remote Island areas


Our coral reefs are under attack by ocean acidification and warming seas caused by climate change as well as waste-water pollution. In turn, these challenges make America’s coral reefs more vulnerable to coral bleaching, stony coral tissue loss disease, among others.

Here’s an example of the decline of the Great Florida Reef by USGS.

USGS describes in its assessment “Like many reefs around the world, Florida’s reefs have experienced significant coral loss in recent decades from coral bleaching, disease, and human-related disturbances.”

Here’s an example of the decline of the Hawaiian Coral Reef by USGS.

There, the USGS specifically found:

“Coral reefs along densely populated shorelines are especially vulnerable to the effects of ocean acidification amplified by local pollution. Corals around the world are already stressed by ocean acidification—the gradual decline in seawater pH as the ocean absorbs increasing amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.”

USGS goes on to state that “polluted, low-pH groundwater discharging onto a shallow coral reef off” such as Kahekili Beach Park in west Maui, Hawai‘i “further increases seawater acidity and exposes corals to nitrate concentrations 50 times higher than normal. Such land-based pollution could contribute to the collapse of coastal coral reef ecosystems sooner than predicted based on ocean acidification alone.”

We filed the bipartisan Restoring Resilient Reefs Act to address many of these major challenges facing America’s reefs. The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act (RRRA) reauthorizes the Coral Reef Conservation Act (CRCA), which expired nearly fifteen years ago. It maintains the NOAA Coral Reef program, while also introducing overdue improvements to coral management and restoration efforts and giving innovative new tools to partners who are closest to this crisis: states, territories, tribes, communities, and universities. 

KEY PROVISIONS:

  • A 5-year authorization with an explicit focus on restoration activities where natural disasters and human actives have degraded reef ecosystems. This program is currently funded at $33M for 2021 but without further direction by Congress
  • Creates a block grant program where states and territories can receive federal “matching funds” for the prior year’s coral expenditures, provided they have an action plan in place, which will incentivize increased state and local investment of in coral reef management capacity

Intergovernmental partnerships are key for water infrastructure upgrades, pollution mitigation efforts and regrowing reefs.

  • Allows for the formation of a public-private partnerships for coral management, called “Coral Stewardship Partnerships” 
  • Public-Private partnerships are critical for sharing researching 
  • Authorizes the U.S Coral Reef Task Force, to ensure states, territories, and other stakeholders continue to have a voice in U.S coral reef management. Public feedback is essential
  • Establishes of a single streamlined set of guidelines for “action plans” to implement the national strategy, with maximum flexibility given to state and local authorities. These action plans will focus restoration efforts more effectively 
  • Allows for emergency grants and emergency funds for coral disasters. - This will assist with Hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, as well as oil spills and other major pollution events 

Thank you to Chairman Huffman, Ranking Member Bentz and fellow subcommittee members for the opportunity to discuss the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act and help save America’s reefs!”

For a video of the full hearing, please click here (Congressman Soto – 18:10 – 23:12 & 1:31:47 – 1:36:42).

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