WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI) have introduced the Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act, legislation that would jumpstart research related to coral reef conservation.
“In the past two years, Hawaii’s coral reefs have experienced two serious coral bleaching events, and with rising ocean temperatures, we can expect these events to become more commonplace,” Hirono said. “There is much to be learned about mitigation and the long-term effects of coral bleaching, and this legislation will spur research to better protect this precious natural resource.”
Takai said it’s important the state do everything it can to conserve coral reef.
“Through this legislation, we will promote innovative new ways we can protect our aina and a resource that is vital to Hawaii’s economy,” he said.
Coral reef ecosystems are marine biodiversity hotspots that provide food for millions of people and also protect our shorelines from storms and erosion.
Coral reefs in Hawaii alone are worth $385 million per year to the local economy and taking into account all of the services, they provide have a net present value of $10 billion, according to a press release.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has declared a worldwide coral bleaching event that will impact 95 percent of U.S. coral reefs, including reefs in Hawaii. Long-term coral bleaching leaves reefs vulnerable to disease outbreaks and death.
This no-cost bill would encourage the 12 federal agencies on the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force to collaboratively use existing funds across agencies to carry out a competitive prize competition.
Hanalei marine biologist Terry Lilley, who has studied and recorded changes to the coral reefs on Kauai’s North Shore for years, said the bill “looks very promising.”
“It seems like we may have turned a corner here and now have some support for our research from a number of directions,” he wrote. “It seems … there is now some ‘political will’ to fund reef projects.”
Lilley said he supplied legislators his research that documents the demise of many of the North Shore’s reefs.
“I am happy to see them taking it seriously,” he said.
Felicia Cowden, Kauai Community Radio community affairs team, said she applauds the Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act.
“Indeed, the health of the reefs is an essential part of a resilient Hawaii,” she wrote. “Progress made here can help other reefs elsewhere.”
The legislation also allows the federal agencies to work with private entities to both fund and administer the prize competitions.
“This type of innovation, facilitated through a private investment in the public good, is critical for adaptive and quick response to the changing ocean climate,” said Chris E. Ostrander, assistant dean of Strategic Initiatives and External Relations of the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.