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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Coastal resilience is subject of roundtable in caucus panel co-chaired by González Colón

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón, at left

By The Star Staff

Coastal resilience, data collection, innovation in ocean energy, marine debris cleanup, seaweed control and the blue economy, among other things, were the priorities discussed during a roundtable held by a caucus board in the U.S. House of Representatives that is co-chaired by Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón.

The House Oceans Caucus board is comprised of co-chairs González Colón (R-P.R.) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oreg.): Senate co-chairs Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and honorary co-chairs Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc). The caucus was formed more than a decade ago to create a bipartisan voice on ocean issues. It works to educate congressional members and staff, raise awareness and exchange information and ideas on issues affecting ocean health.

The caucus met Wednesday with the deputy secretary of commerce for oceans & atmosphere and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Dr. Richard Spinrad, and the Ocean Caucus Foundation to discuss the caucus’ work agenda. The meeting was also attended by other members of Congress.

In 2021 and 2022, NOAA received billions of dollars in federal funding from legislation backed by the resident commissioner, including from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act for Coastal Resilience, Ecosystem Restoration, and Improvements in Climate and Ocean Data. In addition, several ocean bills became law through the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

The roundtable discussed the current status of those investments, NOAA’s work plan for implementation, and how to ensure those efforts benefit local communities on the ground. The commissioner asked Spinrad to include sargassum control in the agency’s work.

Co-chairs González Colón and Bonamici identified the following issues as priorities in the House for the caucus including: 1) data collection, smart ocean monitoring and planning, and illegal fishing; 2) coastal resilience and adaptation; 3) attention to plastics and marine debris; 4); innovation in ocean energy; 5) environmental stressors; and (6) communication and education in marine sciences.

Among the initiatives related to the conservation, research and protection of the oceans, and supported by the resident commissioner, are: funding allocations for the Integrated Ocean Observation System, which includes the Caribbean Coastal Ocean Observation System and the National Sea Grant College Program, both located at the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico.

González Colón noted that she has long prioritized the need to invest in coastal resilience, particularly considering Puerto Rico’s vulnerability to natural disasters.

After Hurricane Maria, the resident commissioner secured $9 million to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct coastal erosion surveys on the island.

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