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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 9:26 a.m., Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Bush administration seeks stepped-up reef protection

Advertiser Staff

The Bush administration has delivered proposed legislation to Congress calling for stepped-up protection for the nation's coral reefs, according to a news release issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The bill, the Coral Reef Ecosystem Conservation Amendments Act of 2007, reauthorizes the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 and adds protections for coral reefs while improving marine debris removal efforts and increasing the government's ability to work through partnerships.

"The administration proposal for reauthorizing this act is an important step forward for the partnerships that are working to conserve our coral reefs," Interior Secretary Dick Kempthorne said in the news release. "It will help the coral conservation programs within the department, and increase our ability to assist the states and territories with their efforts."

Major causes of reef decline are land-based pollution, disease, habitat destruction, over-fishing, climate change, vessel groundings, and coastal development. In order to address continuing threats, the bill focuses on implementation and management of issues associated with climate change such as coral disease and bleaching. The proposal will also mandate the establishment of consistent guidelines for maintaining environmental data, products and information allowing for more effective management approaches.

In addition, seeking to address vessel impacts to reefs, the legislation establishes a new emergency response account to fund emergency response, stabilization, and restoration following incidents that injure coral reefs. And the bill makes it unlawful to destroy or injure any coral reef and allows the government to recover response and restoration costs from responsible parties. It provides for the removal of abandoned fishing gear, marine debris, and abandoned vessels from coral reef ecosystems in federal waters and allows for assistance to states for removal of marine debris.

The Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program partners with scientific, private, government and nongovernmental organizations at the local, state, federal and international levels to preserve, sustain and restore valuable coral reef ecosystems.

NOAA and Department of Interior co-chair the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, co-manage Hawai'i's Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, and cooperate in other coral reef conservation efforts.

The proposed legislation would for the first time establish a damage recovery process for the coral reefs in national wildlife refuges, and increase the effectiveness of the current authorities for recovering damages to reefs in national parks and national marine sanctuaries. It also provides statutory authorization for Department of the Interior coral conservation activities, which are now conducted under general conservation authorities that do not mention coral reefs.