LIHUE — Hawaii coral reefs are one step closer to receiving nearly $10 million more in federal funding thanks to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee approval of the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act.
The legislation was introduced by four U.S. senators including Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and would create new grants, stewardship partnerships and research partnerships to bolster Hawaii’s reefs.
That research could benefit reefs around the world, too.
The legislation comes in light of another marine heat wave warming up waters around Hawaii in 2019 and causing coral reef bleaching. Bleaching doesn’t necessarily kill the corals, but it does weaken then and can lead to coral death.
“With the widespread threats to coral reefs across Hawaii growing, we need to do more to help states and communities fight back,” said Schatz. “My bill will make federal funding available so that more local governments and organizations have the resources they need to save their reefs.”
Hawaii’s reefs were impacted in the 2015 marine heat wave, or “blob,” that encompassed the Pacific between California and the archipelago. The 2019 marine heat wave has caused similar bleaching, including more than 75% of corals off West Maui and 80% of corals off Hawaii Island.
Kauai’s reefs have been mirroring statewide trends, according to researchers, with some areas experiencing excessive bleaching and others appearing healthy.
The Restoring Resilient Reefs Act would reauthorize the expired Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 and would increase federal funding for corals by nearly $10 million to a total of $35 million over five years.
The extra money would support initiatives like new coral block grants, which would allow states to apply for funding to meet priorities set for reef restoration and management.
It would also support partnerships between state management agencies and communities that could lead to landing National Oceanic and Atmpspheric Administration funding.
Thirdly, the legislation would provide for the creation of two Coral Reef Institutes, one for the Pacific and one for the Atlantic, which would team up state governments with universities.
A companion bill was introduced around the same time in the House of Representatives, and other legislation was also released in the summer of 2019 relating to reefs, like the Coral Reef Sustainability Through Innovation Act of 2019, introduced by Hirono and U.S. Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii).
At the introduction of the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act, Hirono issued a statement highlighting the importance of preserving reefs and pointing out their intregral place within coastal ecosystems.
“The long-term ecological and economic impacts of coral bleaching pose serious threats to our way of life,” Hirono said.
“Our bill is a step in the right direction to ensuring that communities that depend on healthy oceans, like those in Hawaii, have the resources they need for protecting coral reefs.”
Jessica Else, environment reporter, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org.