Late Tuesday evening (6/17/14), the U.S. Congress passed the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control bill! The bill has gone to President Obama to be signed into final law – the first free-standing oceans bill to be passed by this Congress.
This legislation is a significant step forward in recognizing and addressing the growing problem of toxic and harmful algal blooms and hypoxia including ocean dead zones; a commitment amplified by the bipartisan nature of the support. The HABs bill will develop and implement a national strategy and regional action plans to combat harmful algal blooms in our oceans and waterways.
Harmful algal blooms, which often produce a toxin and occur in both salt and fresh water, are known to kill fish, marine mammals, and birds; they can contaminate shellfish with toxins and harm human health, sometimes resulting in fatalities. They shut down fisheries, sideline fishermen and drive tourists away from resorts. Researchers have estimated that HABs cost coastal communities nearly $100 million annually.
Most recently, in March of 2014, a record number of Florida’s endangered manatees died due to a toxic algal bloom. The highest death counts of wildlife came from Indian River Lagoon where the Ocean River Institute is working in collaboration with local groups to stem nitrogen pollution coming off the land.
These impacts stress the importance of this bill to understand HABs and develop tools to mitigate their impacts and ultimately to control or even prevent harmful algal blooms.
“I’d like to offer special thanks to champions Sen. Nelson and Congresswoman Bonamici, to Sen. Portman, and to the many other ocean champions – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – in the House and Senate who worked to deliver this win for the oceans.” said David Wilmot, Ph.D., President of Ocean Champions.
“Not only is this bill a strong step in the right direction, we intend to continue working with all of our champions to achieve even more for the oceans.”
The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control bill was first proposed in 2006 by newly elected Representative Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) and Representative Connie Mack (R-Naples & Ft Meyers). Both legislators are Florida-born and life-long ocean conservationists. It was easy for Ocean Champions to endorse and buy advertising for in their respective primary races.
With a previous Congress the Harmful Algal Blooms bill made it to the House floor with bi-partisan support. However, not knowing much about the bill, the Republican leadership whipped against the bill and it was defeated on a Tuesday. Representative Chellie Pingree on the Rules Committee was instrumental in bringing the Harmful Algal Bloom bill back to the House floor on the following Friday for a second, successful vote. Unfortunately it ran out of time in the Senate.
The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendment Act (S. 1254) was introduced first by Senator Olympia Snow and in the next Congress by Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, Mr. Begich, Mr. Rockefeller, Mr. Whitehouse, Mrs. Gillibrand, Mr. Cardin, Ms. Collins, Ms. Cantwell, Mrs. Boxer, Mr. Wyden, Mr. Merkley, and Mr. Blumenthal.
The House version was introduced by Representatives Mr. Harris, Mrs. Christensen, Mr. Michaud, Mr. Grijalva, Ms. Pingree of Maine, and Mr. Mack. Additional House sponsors were Mr. Bartlett, Ms. Castor of Florida, Mr. DeFazio, and Mr. Young of Florida. The bill subsequently was approved by a majority of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and in addition to the Committee on Natural Resources.