WASHINGTON — Hawaii’s U.S. senators are teaming up with two Republicans from Florida to try to save the nation’s coral reefs.

On Friday, Sens. Brian Schatz, Mazie Hirono, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott introduced legislation that aims to pump more money into coral reef conservation in U.S. waters.

Clouds of reef fish and corals, French frigate shoals, NWHI
Reef fish and corals at the French frigate shoals in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Courtesy: James Watt

The bipartisan bill, if passed, would aid in restoration efforts and create a pathway to access emergency funds in the event of disease outbreaks, proliferation of invasive species, bleaching, vessel groundings and chemical spills.

A warming planet has threatened coral with widespread bleaching and die-offs. The continued demise could lead to harsh realities in both Hawaii and Florida, where coral reefs are an integral part of the ecology and economy, particularly as it relates to tourism.

“From never-before-seen levels of bleaching in the Pacific, to unprecedented devastation from disease in the Atlantic, coral reefs need urgent help,” Schatz said in a statement announcing the legislation. “Our bill gives local governments and communities the federal resources to help save Hawaii’s corals.”

In his own statement, Rubio said he saw firsthand the state of Florida’s reefs while touring the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary earlier in the year, which is one of the reasons he’s supporting the legislation.

“This important bipartisan bill will ensure federal agencies are partnering effectively with state and local governments, as well as the communities who rely on the vitality of these critical habitats,” he said.

The legislation was also introduced in the House with bipartisan sponsorship. Reps. Darren Soto, a Democrat from Florida, and Jenniffer González-Colón, a Republican from Puerto Rico, are the lead sponsors. Other lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have also signed on.

Read the specifics of the legislation here:

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