Here in South Florida and the Florida Keys, we know the intrinsic value of our environment, both locally and nationally. I will continue to make it my mission to protect our delicate South Florida and Keys ecosystem so that future generations are able to enjoy our ecological treasures.
From our world-renowned beaches to our delicate coral reef, Florida has many environmental wonders that must be safeguarded. The Florida Keys, in particular, are one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the nation. The Keys are home to two national parks, four national wildlife refuges, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Preserving our natural habitats and conserving endangered and threatened fish, wildlife and plants will require a dedicated collection of civic minded individuals, organizations, and elected officials who are all willing to be active participants in preservation and restoration efforts.
We have had great collaborative successes such as the Miami River dredging, which has created an environmental and economic renaissance on the shores of the river. Dredging the contaminated sediment that had been at the bottom of the river for decades has created a cleaner environment not just in and around the Miami River, but at its outlet in Biscayne Bay as well.
Clean waters are the heart of our community and protecting our ocean and coastal resources is of paramount importance. I continue to be a staunch opponent of offshore drilling, including proposed drilling off Cuba's shores, just 90 miles south of Key West. For several years, I have led legislation that imposes sanctions and other penalties on individuals and entities involved in Cuba's oil-drilling operations. This very real threat to our ecosystem is simply too great to tolerate.
Of course, our tropical paradise is known worldwide for its beaches. What the many millions of tourists may not know is our beaches act as a natural defense from wind and flood damage caused by tropical storms and hurricanes. The environmental, economic, and safety benefits of our beaches cannot be overstated. Erosion is a tremendous threat to this vital natural resource and I have been active in identifying and implementing an effective long-term solution to comprehensive beach re-nourishment.
Further south, the Florida Keys are home to North America's only living barrier coral reef, which is also the 3rd largest coral reef in the world. Healthy marine habitats are of significant social, economic, and environmental importance and support the livelihood of many Florida Keys residents through recreational, commercial, and charter fishing as well as eco-tourism. I have worked hard to protect our coral reefs and I will continue to support policies that ensure their conservation as co-chair of the National Marine Sanctuary Caucus in Congress.
Our community is intimately tied to the environmental integrity of our beaches, coral reefs and other precious ecosystems. I will continue to fight for increased action to protect our natural environment. Our natural wonders must be protected for future generations of Floridians and visitors to enjoy and I look forward to continuing to work on this important task.