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Coral reef restoration bill clears key Senate committee

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A U.S. Senate committee has approved the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act, which provides federal funding for the restoration of troubled coral reefs across the nation, including Hawaii.

The act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, would increase federal funding for corals by nearly $10 million, bringing the total to $35 million over five years.

“With the widespread threats to coral reefs across Hawaii growing, we need to do more to help states and communities fight back,” said Schatz in a news release. “My bill will make federal funding available so that more local governments and organizations have the resources they need to save their reefs.”

State and federal officials recently reported widespread bleaching across the Hawaiian isles, including more than 75% of corals off West Maui, upwards of 50% at Molokini and an average of 40% along the Kona Coast.

Numerous areas were affected, including Lanikai, Oahu’s popular white sand beach on the Windward side, as well as at Makua on the West side, Anini Boat Ramp on Kauai and Kau on the Big Island.

The bleaching was also found for the first time at depths of up to 70 feet throughout the Hawaiian isles, researchers said. Cauliflower and rice corals were the most affected.

The increased funding would support the following new initiatives:

>> New Coral Block Grants. These grants would allow states like Hawaii to apply for funding to meet the priorities they have set for restoration and management of their own coral reefs.

>> Coral Reef Stewardship Partnerships. This program would allow communities to partner with a state or territorial resource management agency like the Department of Land and Natural Resources to develop a customized management plan and compete for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funding.

>> Pacific and Atlantic Coral Reef Institutes. NOAA would allow universities and state governments to team up and compete to become one of two Coral Reef Institutes — one for the Pacific and one for the Atlantic.

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