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Rubio, Colleagues Urge Use of Emergency Statute to Respond to Florida Coral Bleaching

Aug 18, 2023 | Press Releases

Corals in the Florida Reef Tract are under severe stress due to a marine heatwave which is causing coral bleaching. The government has the authority to respond under emergency provisions of the Coral Reef Conservation Act (CRCA).

In December 2022, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) Restoring Resilient Reefs Act was enacted into law, which reauthorized and reformed the CRCA for the first time since it expired in 2004. The bill included provisions that provide the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with the tools needed to respond to coral reef health emergencies.

Senator Rubio, U.S. Representative Darren Soto (D-FL), and colleagues sent a letter to Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Richard Spinrad urging him to invoke the emergency provisions of their Restoring Resilient Reefs Act in response to ongoing coral bleaching.  

  • “Florida’s coral barrier reef is an irreplaceable resource which must be preserved, and protected from this coral bleaching event. We ask that you use the resources and authorities available to you in a timely manner.”

Joining Rubio and Soto were Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) and Representatives Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), Neal Dunn (R-FL), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), Scott Franklin (R-FL), Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), John Rutherford (R-FL), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). 

The full text of the letter is below. 

Dear Administrator Spinrad: 

We write with grave concern for the health of the Florida Reef Tract, which is being afflicted by coral bleaching due to recent severe heat stress.  We urge you to expeditiously use the emergency mechanisms available to you under to the Coral Reef Conservation Act (CRCA) to maximize the efforts being undertaken by state and federal managers and their non-profit partners to identify and monitor continuing heat stress across the reef, maintain essential genetic diversity of coral populations, and plan for responsible reintroduction and restoration. 

The Florida Reef Tract is the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world, offering critical ecological, economic, and ecosystem service benefits to South Florida.  The reef is a haven for biologically diverse wildlife including endangered species, an economic engine for Florida’s tourism economy, and a natural defense for our coastal communities against hurricanes and storm surge.  In recent weeks, the Florida Reef Tract has suffered from a severe marine heatwave leading to coral bleaching, further stressing this crucial ecological resource which has already been in decline for decades. 

As you know, our Restoring Resilient Reefs Act (RRRA), which was enacted last December, reauthorized and reformed the CRCA for the first time in nearly twenty years.  Among other reforms, the RRRA provides you with tools to respond to coral reef health emergencies caused by bleaching, disease, and other impacts.  Specifically, sections 209 and 210 of the CRCA, as amended, authorizes you to mobilize federal resources, in coordination with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), on an emergency basis, to respond to exigent circumstances in the health of American coral reefs.  We urge you to use available funds to fulfill these emergency response responsibilities and to consult with NFWF to identify existing funds that could be used to support the response of jurisdictional managers and coral restoration practitioners in the Florida Reef Tract, including available funds within the National Ocean and Coastal Security Fund.

Florida’s coral barrier reef is an irreplaceable resource which must be preserved and protected from this coral bleaching event.  We ask that you use the resources and authorities available to you in a timely manner.

Sincerely,