Federal bill would establish competition for coral recovery ideas

HONOLULU — There could be a prize for creative solutions to the declining health of the world’s coral reefs.

That’s if Congress approves the newly released Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act of 2017, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono,D-Hawaii, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii.

The act is being introduced in response to increasing threats to coral reef ecosystems such as climate change, pollution, and direct damage from humans, according to a release from Hirono’s office. It directs federal agencies to establish a competitive prize to catalyze creative solutions to mitigate the decline or degradation of coral reefs.

Hawaii relies on healthy coral reef ecosystems to protect its communities from extreme weather events, and the reefs are also home to marine life that feed communities and support the local economy, Hirono said.

“By supporting innovative solutions to real-world issues, this bill creates an opportunity for individuals, government, and the private sector to partner together to protect our aquatic resources and coastal communities now and into the future,” she said.

The legislation is “groundbreaking” according to Harry Rabin, of the environmental conservation group ReefGuardians Hawaii, because it clearly promotes partnerships with individuals and organizations that share the same goal.

It should be an example for others, he said.

“Restoring the health of our reef systems is crucial to the environment as well as the economic health for the state of Hawaii,” Rabin said. “Let’s hope that if and when this bill passes that it has enough resources in place to make an impact within our troubled marine environment.”

The measure is a step in the right direction according to Terry Lilley, of Hanalei, who has compiled more than 1,500 hours of underwater video on coral reefs in Hawaii.

“I am super stoked that the politicians are finally caring about the future of our coral reefs here in Hawaii. All good and I really love them for it because for five years I could not get any of these folks to even respond to an email about our reef problems,” Lilley said.

Coral reefs in Hawaii alone are worth $385 million per year to the local economy and provide a total net present value of $10 billion.

Aimed at fostering coral reef conservation and innovation research, this bill authorizes the 12 federal agencies on the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force to use existing cross-agency funding to carry out a competitive prize competition. Additionally, the legislation allows federal agencies to work with private entities to both fund and administer the prize competition.

“As guardians of our planet, we cannot afford to look back and wonder why we did not take steps to prevent the total loss of our coral reef ecosystem when we had notice of its impending demise,” Hanabusa said.

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