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Congress moves to invest in the nation’s estuaries   

Reauthorizes the National Estuary Program to recover and grow coastal economic economies and ensure resilient coastal communities

ST. PETERSBURG – Congress reaffirmed its support and strong commitment to the National Estuary Program a time tested, non-regulatory program that enables communities to restore and protect the bays and estuaries they call home. The Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) is one of 28 “estuaries of national significance” along every coast that will benefit directly from legislation approved by Congress. It was strongly supported by Senators Rubio and Scott and most of Florida’s House delegation including Representatives Bilirakis, Buchanan, Castor, Crist and Steube from the Tampa Bay region.

The Protect and Restore America’s Estuaries Act, with strong bipartisan support and unanimous approval from the Senate, was signed into law on January 13, 2021. The Act reaffirms support for the work of the National Estuary Program, and nearly doubles the annual funding limit to $50 million. Under the new law, each NEP could receive as much as $1 million each year. The TBEP works with our communities at the local level to protect the coastal resources essential for tourism, commerce, storm protection, clean water and marine-based food supply such as fisheries and aquaculture. Increasing threats from pollution, harmful algal blooms, accelerating land loss, and risks to biodiversity threaten the vitality of estuaries across the country, and are a growing concern.

“These actions demonstrate a clear recognition by Congress of the economic and environmental value of our nation’s estuaries and coasts,” said Lexie Bell, Chair of the national nonprofit Association of National Estuary Programs, established in 1995 to bring the National Estuary Programs together for collaboration and shared learning.

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the original sponsor of the bill introduced in July 2019 said, “Estuaries nurture a vast array of marine life, filter pollutants from rivers before they reach the sea, and are the natural infrastructure that protects human communities from floods and storms. As extreme weather events increasingly threaten these nurseries of the sea, I’m very proud this important legislation was signed into law, so these critical waterways will continue to be protected.”

Senators Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Cassidy of Louisiana, and Carper of Delaware were instrumental in securing passage of the bill, and are long time champions of estuaries and coastal protection.

“In addition to funding innovative research, restoration, and community-based grant opportunities, the National Estuary Program ensures that the management plans governing nationally significant estuaries consider the effects of a changing climate and continuing coastal development. Thereby, enabling the development and implementation of appropriate adaptation strategies for the future benefit of Tampa Bay,” said Ed Sherwood, TBEP Executive Director. “We are greatly appreciative of the strong support from our Senators and Representatives for the important work being done in our estuaries through our program and in collaboration with many public and private partners across all sectors in the region,” said Sherwood.

Last year, with input from its many public and private sector partners, the TBEP updated the Tampa Bay watershed habitat management plan.