Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan) has introduced a bill aimed at protecting the CNMI’s coral reefs through recovery of monetary damages from vessel groundings and anchoring-related injuries, destructive fishing practices, and non-permitted taking of threatened species.
House Bill 19-179, or the “Coral Reef Protection Act of 2016,” says it is in the best interests of the CNMI to protect coral reefs through “timely and efficient recovery” of monetary damages from harm or damage to coral.
The bill gives the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality the power to enforce its provisions and recover damages from the destruction of, loss of, or injury to coral reef
The bill provides that “a responsible party of a vessel who knows or should know that their vessel has run aground on coral reef, struck coral reef, released pollutants harming coral reef, or otherwise damaged coral reef must notify” BECQ of the event within 24 hours after its occurrence.
For grounded or anchored vessels, the bill gives parties within 72 hours to remove the vessel, barring extenuating circumstances like weather that would prevent safe removal.
It also gives parties 72 hours to remove or cause the removal of the pollutant discharge barring extenuating circumstances and requires them to submit a “removal plan” for BECQ to obtain approval before action.
Under a penalties section, the bill slaps a fine of $500 for any anchoring of a vessel on coral reef or any other damage to coral reef by boaters, after a third warning after a party’s first offense.
It also imposes, among others, an additional $1,000 if the damage or anchoring occurs within a marine preserve and an additional $1,500 if occurring on a threatened coral species listed under the Endangered Species Act.
It also creates a Coral Reef Restoration Fund where damages recovered will be deposited into and will pay for administrative costs for BECQ and the pay for the restoration, rehabilitation, and replacement of injured or destroyed corals reefs or other natural resources, among other outreach program and projects.