It would be a fitting end for the CNMI’s commemoration of the International Year of the Reef if Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signs into law House Bill 20-79 or the Coral Reef Protection Act of 2017.
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk after it passed the House; it has already been passed at the CNMI Senate.
H.B. 20-79 aims to protect the CNMI’s coral reefs by having them any coral damage restored using money collected from fines that are imposed on vessels that run aground or through anchor-related damage, destructive fishing practices, and non-permitted taking of threatened species of corals.
The Senate designated the Division of Fish and Wildlife under the Department of Lands and Natural Resources as the regulating authority. The bill originally gave that job to the CNMI Bureau of Environmental Coastal Quality.
The Senate finds that DFW is the proper agency to do that: creating rules and regulations, going after those who destroy coral reefs, and imposing fines. H.B. 20-79 also gives DFW the responsibility to promulgate the regulations.
“The Senate finds that [DFW] has the regulatory authority to go out and find these vessels that run aground. Because of the regulatory authority, the Senate took the position that it is more efficient to give it to [DFW],” said Rep. Angel A. Demapan (R-Saipan), who introduced H.B. 20-79.
This is the third time that the world is celebrating the International Year of the Reef; it was last celebrated 10 years ago in 2008. The International Year of the Reef was first declared in 1997 to raise awareness about the growing threat of damage to coral reefs in the world’s oceans.
Demapan said it would be fitting if Torres enacts the law before the year ends. “The most important thing for me is for this bill to pass and become a law. It is very timely since this is the International Year of the Coral Reef. It is a timely bill since a lot of countries and the nation as well are observing the Year of the Reef.”
He said that H.B. 20-79 aims to make owners liable for damage if their vessel runs aground. He cited one vessel that ran aground but no fines were imposed on the owner.
“These fines and penalties will go into a restoration fund, which would allow the regulatory agencies to use that money to improve the lives of our coral reefs. And to do any restoration efforts where they can relocate coral reefs in certain areas that are damaged.”