The protection of our precious ecosystems for future generations is of utmost concern. I have supported numerous measures in support of greater environmental protection.
Protecting Our Coral Reef Habitat
* I founded the National Marine Sanctuary Caucus, a bi-partisan organization, co-chaired by Rep. Lois Capps of California, which was established to raise Congressional awareness about the essential role national sanctuaries play in protecting marine habitats.
* I co-sponsored and voted in favor of the Coral Reef Preservation Act. This provides much needed federal research dollars toward coral reef protection.
* I have twice participated in a SCUBA dive to the Aquarius Undersea Laboratory in the Florida Keys. While in Aquarius, I participated in a live, underwater question and answer session with schoolchildren on topics such as coral reef conservation and the dangers of offshore drilling. This visit demonstrated how the Aquarius facility plays a direct role in improving our youngsters understanding and appreciation of the marine environment
Combating Beach Erosion
Our world-renowned beaches are running out of sand. The tourism industry, businesses, and local residents in South Florida generate billions of dollars annually and rely on our beaches for their economic livelihood.
Local governments have made a sizeable effort to replenish severely eroded beachfront areas. South Florida currently transports sand, via truck and pipeline, from more plentiful areas to areas of critical need. However, much more sand--of a specific environmental quality-is still required in order to successfully complete comprehensive beach re-nourishment.
This is why I am working with my Florida colleagues in Congress to examine alternative sand sources, ranging from manufactured sand to an offshore source. I have hosted numerous high-level meetings between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Members of Congress, and local governments. Much work needs to be done, but I am confident that working together we can achieve a timely and cost-efficient rehabilitation of our coasts.
As printed in the Florida League of Cities Federal Edition Magazine
Stimulating our Economy through Environmental Protection
By Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Florida is the Sunshine State, famous for its pristine beaches, tropical weather, and plentiful national and state parks. I am truly blessed to represent Florida's 18th Congressional district in the U.S. Congress, which includes more than 250 miles of coastline, from Surfside to South Beach; from Key Biscayne to Key West. Tourism is our State's primary industry, with more than 20 million visitors this year. During this time of economic uncertainty, it is imperative that we continue to protect those precious resources which so many visitors come to Florida to enjoy.
Beach erosion remains an on-going concern to coastal communities throughout our State. These beaches are an invaluable protection against property damage resulting from heavy rains and high wind speeds. While the recent hurricane season has been mild in comparison to previous years, we should not wait for the next Hurricane Andrew or Katrina to act.
In Miami-Dade, local governments have made a sizeable effort to protect our prized beaches, by replenishing severely eroded areas on a regular basis. Miami-Dade County presently transports sand, via truck and pipeline, from more plentiful areas to erosion "hot spots". Despite these efforts, much more sand, of a specific environmental quality, is needed in order to successfully complete a comprehensive beach renourishment.
I am leading the effort in Congress to provide federal resources towards beach renourishment. In addition to authorizing the use of existing stockpiles of sand held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, I am also working to examine alternative sand sources. Given the limited supply of domestic sand, it is important that local governments be given an option to utilize other sand sources--including foreign and manufactured sand--provided that it meets the most stringent of environmental standards. Much work remains to be done in this endeavor but I am confident that by working together, Congressional lawmakers, local governments, and environmental stakeholders can achieve an effective, efficient, and timely rehabilitation of our beaches.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is an international wonder, a national treasure, and a local economic superstar. The Sanctuary is home to North America's only living barrier coral reef, which is also the 3rd largest coral reef tract in the world. Approximately 70% of all tourists to the Florida Keys visit the National Marine Sanctuary and its corals.
Recognizing the significant social, economic, and environmental importance of healthy marine habitats, Congress enacted the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000. This legislation established the first dedicated federal grant program for coral reef protection. I am proud to be a co-sponsor of legislation to reauthorize this important program, which passed in the House of Representatives in September. The 2009 bill increases federal oversight of coral reef monitoring and rehabilitation efforts, and also promotes community-based conservation initiatives. In effect, local stakeholders and Federal agencies will work together to develop regionally appropriate management plans. One of the most important ways that this bill will help to protect coral reefs is by authorizing emergency responses to the physical damages sustained by coral reefs due to vessel groundings and impacts from derelict fishing gear.
In addition to conservation efforts, I am also working with Keys local governments to mitigate the effects of near shore water contamination on our coral reefs. To date, I have worked to secure more than $35 million for water quality improvements in the Florida Keys. The Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Florida Everglades are national treasures; therefore, ensuring the cleanliness of the waters surrounding these two connected ecosystems should be a national priority.
The economic success of our community is intimately tied to the environmental preservation of our beaches, coral reefs, and other precious ecosystems. As a Member of Congress, I will continue to fight for increased federal action to protect our natural environment. South Florida is filled with natural wonders that must be protected for future generations of South Floridians and visitors to enjoy.