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Coral Reef Protection Act To Go Into Effect July 1, 2009

June 30, 2009

~Act raises awareness to help protect one of Florida’s most valuable and endangered natural resources~

coral-reef-protectionTALLAHASSEE - The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is alerting boaters, divers and anglers that the Coral Reef Protection Act goes into effect on July 1, 2009. The law, the result of House Bill 1423 passed during the recent legislative session, will increase the protection of Florida’s endangered coral reefs by helping raise awareness of the damages associated with vessel groundings and anchoring on coral reefs off the coasts of Broward, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach counties. The law also authorizes penalties for the destruction of reef resources and provides for efficient repair and mitigation of reef injuries.

“The Coral Reef Protection Act will allow us to work with local and state governments to increase public awareness about coral reef protection and the likelihood that responsible parties who damage reefs are held accountable for their actions,” said Lee Edmiston, Director of the Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas (CAMA) for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). “The new law will also allow us to bring together experts to address reef damage in the most appropriate way.”

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Fishing, diving and other boating-related activities on Florida’s coral reefs generate approximately $6 billion dollars in sales and income for Florida’s citizens and sustain more than 60,000 jobs annually according to report conducted by Hazen and Sawyer in association with Florida State University and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. In the new law, the Florida Legislature identifies coral reefs as an extraordinary biological, geological and economic resource, and states that protecting coral reefs and enacting monetary damage restitution to the state are in Florida’s best interest.

The new law will allow DEP to restore coral reefs by ensuring that those responsible for damaging coral reefs can face fines and penalties to help restore the damage. The law also allows the state to issue “first time” warnings in lieu of a fine to recreational boaters in certain instances, and specifies higher penalties for repeat offenders and for injuries which occur within a state park or aquatic preserve.

In keeping with the multi-disciplinary, multi-agency efforts necessary to protect this public resource, the law allows DEP to delegate authority through agreements with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, coastal counties and other local governments to investigate reef damages, recover costs, provide restoration and seek compensatory mitigation.

The law clarifies and streamlines current DEP authorities and processes, while implementing many of the recommendations taken from a two-day public workshop held by DEP in Ft. Lauderdale in 2006. The workshop, part of a Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative local action strategy, compiled information on existing emergency response processes, identified deficiencies and developed consensus-based solutions among government marine industry representatives and other stakeholders to improve response to, and restoration of, coral reef injuries in southeast Florida.

CAMA manages three National Estuarine Research Reserves in the state, 41 aquatic preserves, the Coral Reef Conservation Program and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. CAMA’s programs and activities are designed to help Floridians better understand and conserve the state’s resources through research, education and preservation. For more information on DEP’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/programs/coral/. For more information on DEP’s Office of Coastal and Aquatic Managed Areas, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal

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