Senate Approves Bill to Enhance Coral Reef Conservation

December 16, 2005

WASHINGTON, DC – Late last night, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the "Coral Reef Conservation Amendments Act of 2005" (S. 1390), introduced by Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and co-sponsored by Senators John Sununu (R-N.H.) and Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii).

The legislation, which reauthorizes and amends the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 (CRCA), enhances the resources and damage prevention measures needed to ensure the long-term health of the nation’s coral reefs.

"With the passage of this legislation, we are taking great strides to improve the condition of coral reefs in Hawaii and elsewhere in the country," said Sen. Inouye, co-chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. "Not only are coral reefs among the oldest and most diverse ecosystems on the planet, they are critical to the economies of coastal states. Our bill puts in place the necessary resources, measures, and authorities to improve our coral conservation efforts over the next five years."

Sen. Sununu, chairman of the National Ocean Policy Study Subcommittee, commented, "Senate approval of the ‘Coral Reef Conservation Amendments Act of 2005’ underscores a commitment to the preservation of some of the most fragile ecosystems on earth. The provisions in this bill will provide the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with the tools it needs to help stem damage to coral reefs from ocean vessels and prevent collisions from occurring in the future."

The bill includes the following key provisions:

Funding: The bill increases annual program authorizations from $16 million to $30 million in FY2006, up to $35 million by FY2009-2012. It also requires the use of at least 30 percent of funds for the Coral Reef Conservation Grants Program, which the bill expands and refocuses.

Emergency Response Actions: The bill authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to undertake emergency response actions to prevent or mitigate imminent coral reef destruction from vessel damage such as grounding and anchoring impacts. It also allows public-private funding for emergency response and prevention actions through the Coral Reef Conservation Fund, for which up to 10 percent of authorized funds would be made available.

Community-Based Solutions: The legislation creates a one-time $8 million Community-Based Planning Grants program to implement locally-designed coral management and protection plans.

Abandoned and Grounded Vessels: The bill authorizes NOAA to maintain a vessel grounding inventory and develop a list of recommendations for preventative measures.

Coordination: The legislation directs coordination among federal, state and territorial governments to implement the U.S. Coral Reef Action Strategy. It also streamlines and focuses reporting requirements.

The bill was originally approved by the Senate Commerce Committee on July 21, 2005.