The US Senate on Thursday passed the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which included several provisions to protect coral reefs, improve the nation’s volcanic warning system and stop the practice of killing sharks for their fins. These provisions were authored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).
The bill now heads to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
The bill includes the bipartisan Restoring Resilient Reefs Act, which was authored by Schatz and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The landmark bill increases authorizations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coral Reef Program from $16 million to $45 million annually.
It also authorizes a state block grant program for $12 million annually to support state efforts to manage and restore coral reefs, and $4.5 million annually for Pacific and Atlantic coral reef cooperative institutes. The provision’s passage is a major step forward for coral reef stewardship.
“Our coral reefs have been pushed to the brink of extinction, and we need to act now to save them,” Sen. Schatz said in a press release. “Our bill, which is now set to become law, puts federal funding in the hands of states and territories to manage and restore the coral reefs that our communities, oceans and coasts depend on.”
Schatz also authored the Volcanic Ash and Fumes Act and secured its inclusion into the National Defense Authorization Act. The bipartisan bill updates the US Geological Survey’s National Volcanic Early Warning System by requiring NOAA to share volcanic gas and ash dispersal models. This will be incorporated into the warning system to keep responders, residents and aviation safe during volcanic eruptions and their aftermath.
“Hawai‘i has six active volcanoes, including Mauna Loa and Kīlauea,” Schatz said. “As we all know in Hawai‘i, volcanic eruptions can be a real danger, so improving our warning systems can make a difference in keeping people safe.”
He said the bipartisan bill, which is set to become law, is a common-sense step to make sure the agencies tracking volcanoes have all available data to respond to threats on land, in the sea, and in the sky, and better protect families in our state.”
The bill also includes a provision cosponsored by Senator Schatz, which will ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States and protect sharks from finning, the brutal practice of slicing fins off of live sharks and throwing the remainder of the animal back into the ocean to drown, starve, or die a slow death. Schatz led the effort to include the provision when the bill passed out of the Commerce Committee.
“Finning is cruel, and it’s crushing the global shark population, which is critical to our oceans and marine ecosystem,” Sen. Schatz said. “I’m glad we were able to move this bill one step closer to becoming law so that we can protect more sharks from this brutal practice.”
The National Defense Authorization Act bill also includes Schatz-Thune legislation to improve weather forecasting. The Learning Excellence and Good Examples from New Developers (LEGEND) Act will require NOAA to make certain operational models publicly available and utilize any innovations to improve the models that are developed as a result of public collaboration.