Congress is showing bipartisan support for a bill that would expand funding for restoring coral reefs and researching new technologies that could make reefs more resilient to climate change.
WASHINGTON (CN) – Intensifying storms, major disease outbreaks, regular bleaching and extremely warm waters are only weakening coral reefs off Hawaii and Florida, but a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill Hill is about to pass legislation this could strengthen the resilience of reefs.
About 21 years ago, lawmakers drafted the Coral Reef Conservation Act, developed to conserve and restore the country’s reefs with a focus on responding to climate change and reducing the impact of pollution. from the land.
But since then, the world has watched coral reefs bleach each year as delicate organisms experience the stress of too hot water, prolonged marine heat waves and a continuous increase in carbon emissions. Coral loss of stony tissue, a disease that first appeared in 2014, has also become endemic to most reefs in Florida and spread in other places like Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Belize and the Caribbean.
The result is clear, but clear: marine health is in decline.
Andrew Baker, professor of marine biology at the University of Miami, told members of a House Natural Resources Subcommittee As of Tuesday, there is no doubt that unless humans significantly address the source of the carbon emissions, what is done now in terms of preservation only saves time – and maybe just a few decades – for the survival of corals.
“I like to think of coral reefs as a puzzle that we have muddled through human activities,” Baker said. “We moved all the pieces, we threw some on the ground and some were turned over. But so far we haven’t thrown any pieces and for anyone who’s done a puzzle, you know it is incredibly frustrating to be left with no pieces at the end. We still have these coins, so the challenge is how to avoid throwing them away as we try to bring climate change under control. “
As problems continue to crop up in the reef conservation saga, solutions, such as new technologies and remedial approaches for diseased or dying corals, have also emerged.
This is precisely what gives Baker hope for the future of critical reefs which not only provide natural habitats and support important wildlife, but also play a role of income generator and creator. jobs through the natural barrier that allows human beings and the sea to coexist in greater harmony.
Puerto Rican Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez Colon, a Republican, supported the reauthorization of the bill as the land is surrounded by 1,900 square miles of coral reef systems that generate more than $ 2 billion in revenue and proceeds. regional nationals just for Puerto Rico. Over 3,000 full and part-time jobs on the island are due to coral reefs.
The US Geological Survey reported last year that each year, coral reefs provide flood protection benefits to more than 4,200 people in Puerto Rico and more than $ 184 million in valued assets.
“They also have the ability to absorb up to 90% of the energy from oncoming waves, reducing the impact of storm surges,” Colon remarked – a serious consideration given the impending arrival. hurricane season, which is only a few weeks away.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association estimates that 93% of Puerto Rico’s reefs are threatened and more than 11% are severely damaged following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Overall, the reefs surrounding Puerto Rico – an island populated by more than 3 million people – are in “fair” condition, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“But they still need considerable care,” Colon said.
This attention will require investments in available and emerging technologies. More investment could be made now in breeding baby corals in a controlled environment so that they can later be used to create more resilient reefs, Baker suggested.
A coral reef scientist for nearly 50 years, Robert Richmond, professor and director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawaii, has suggested lawmakers that the wording of the bill be tightened before it is passed, specifying the conditions for funding grants and waivers for the United States. freely associated territories or states – such as American Samoa – to participate in clearer remedial action.
This level of participation is not just about making the bureaucratic process more efficient, he explained. It’s also about giving communities on the ground the flexibility they need to meet challenges that change from year to year.
In American Samoa, Kelley Anderson Tagarino said Tuesday, it is perfectly clear how urgent this need is and how little time is to be lost.
The overall sea level rise in the world is about an eighth of an inch a year, but in Samoa, Tagarino says it is sinking.
“In the last decade, we’ve sunk more than half a foot. Our current relative rate of sea level rise, which includes island subsidence, is 0.76 inches per year. This is where we have been losing our 7.6 inches of earth over the past decade. If this continues by 2060, we will have seen a sea level rise of more than two feet above sea level in 2009, ”she said.
This causes salt water intrusion into the drinking water – the Samoans depend entirely on underground wells – and damages the island’s infrastructure. There was a slight slowdown in the sag last year, but Tagarino and his fellow researchers are not sure why. NASA joined Tagarino to study it so that a resilience plan can be fleshed out for residents.
The bill proposes to acquire $ 31 million this year and then pay another $ 1.5 million to $ 1.5 million on top of that each year until 2025.
These funds will help make corals adaptive if the drastic reduction in carbon emissions honeymoon – which primarily involves divestment from fossil fuels on a large scale – fails. The United States has set itself a target of reducing carbon emissions by 50% by the end of this decade.
The real trick will be to keep America’s coral reef systems together even as the waters continue to warm, experts and lawmakers have agreed. But by addressing local stressors today, it could give reefs just enough time to deal with the effects of climate change later.