Saturday 25 March 2023 - 12:36:17 pm

UAE’ $3.5m gift will launch major reef restoration programme in Florida Keys

KEY LARGO, Florida, 27th February, 2020 (WAM) -- Officials from the UAE and the United Way of Collier and the Keys announced today that the United Arab Emirates is granting $3.5 million in funds to help restore seven iconic reefs in the Florida Keys. The donation represents one of the largest investments in reef restoration worldwide.

The gift is part of a larger $10 million pledge to the State of Florida for Hurricane Irma relief efforts. The United Way of Collier and the Keys will implement the gift’s impact strategy in partnership with experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, along with other local, state, national, and international stakeholders. The majority of these funds will be made available through the United Way to local reef restoration organisations to execute the critical reef restoration work.

"This is what friends do for each other in times of need. The UAE is delighted to be able to help the Florida Keys community in this special way and begin to restore its iconic coral reefs," said Yousef Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to the United States of America. "We share the same planet and face the same challenges. That’s why the UAE is so proud to collaborate with partners in the US and around the world to better protect and preserve vital ecosystems."

The United Way will oversee, manage, and distribute the grant as part of its continuing Hurricane Irma recovery programming and assistance. This will include projects to protect the reef’s viability and ensure the financial stability of the Florida Keys community, which depends upon the reef to earn over $4.7 billion in annual revenue.

"We are honoured to work with the Ambassador and the Embassy as a trusted partner and look forward to this valued partnership continuing," said Steve Sanderson, President and CEO of the United Way of Collier and the Keys. "This donation is truly transformative, providing for the asset-limited, hardworking families who are dependent on the reefs and marine life yet are still struggling from the effects of this devastating hurricane. We are so thankful for the outstanding collaboration through this gift. As part of the ‘Mission: Iconic Reefs’ effort, what we are doing here and the knowledge we will gain will have a local as well as global impact."

When Hurricane Irma struck the Florida Keys in September 2017, it devastated the coral reef infrastructure that supports the diverse and economically valuable marine ecosystem. The Florida Keys is home to the only barrier reef in North America, and approximately 60 percent of the Florida Keys’ residents maintain an occupation that is dependent on the marine environment.

Over the last 40 years, coral reefs in the Florida Keys have suffered dramatic declines. Only two percent of healthy coral remains today at the "Mission: Iconic Reefs" sites. NOAA and its partners have launched a $97 million effort to restore these seven ecologically and culturally significant coral reefs within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Informed by expertise from years of research and successful trials, the 20-year mission represents one of the largest investments ever in coral restoration. The plan will ultimately revitalise the reefs to a healthy and sustainable 25 percent.

"Investments in pioneering restoration efforts like ‘Mission: Iconic Reefs’ can be beneficial not just in the Florida Keys, but also in reefs around the world, where corals suffer stress from human use, climate change, and other factors," said Dr. Tim Gallaudet, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. "By working together, we can create a lasting legacy in the Florida Keys and help support coral restoration efforts worldwide, in turn, providing economic security for communities that depend on healthy marine environments."

Through complementary grants totaling $700,000, the gift will also promote international climate exchanges and the sharing of best practices, as well as local educational opportunities. By encouraging local youth engagement, it will empower future generations to support restoration, sustainability, and conservation efforts, issues important to both Florida and the UAE.

"This wonderful humanitarian gift will galvanise the critical reef restoration work necessary to revitalise the reef upon which our Florida Keys community depends," said Holly Raschein, Representative for Florida House District 120. "Even more so, the education efforts will create change by teaching young people our next generation to be stewards of our marine environment and by providing opportunities for their financial advancement. This stewardship is something our local community and their future depends on. We could not be more grateful for the United Way’s partnership with the UAE to improve our community."

The UAE has an extensive record of helping US communities recover from natural disasters, from New Orleans to New Jersey, after Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012), to Joplin, Missouri (2011), which was devastated by one of the strongest tornadoes ever recorded in the US.

More recently, the UAE has supported recovery efforts in Collier County to restore Grace Place Children and Families’ playgrounds, hard court, and soccer field, and improve its technology infrastructure and food pantry. The funds are also providing necessary repairs to hurricane-damaged homes of disadvantaged families throughout the Golden Gate community. The UAE is currently working with the United Way and Collier County Public Schools in the Everglades City and Immokalee areas to provide Wi-Fi for underserved youth to support their future success.


WAM/Esraa Ismail