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Rep. Carl’s bill to protect marine forest passes House

If the bill passes the Senate, the Alabama Underwater Forest would become a federally protected marine sanctuary

U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl
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The Alabama Underwater Forest National Marine Sanctuary and Protection Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday.

The bill would add a 60,000-year-old underwater cypress forest located 10 miles south of Gulf Shores and 60 feet underwater to the National Marine Sanctuary system under the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972.

The Alabama Underwater Forest site is the only known location where trees between 50,000 and 70,000 years old have been preserved intact with the ecosystem they were growing in. After Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the forest was revealed.

Currently, there are no recognized sanctuaries in Alabama waters and only two in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administers the National Marine Sanctuary program and recognizes 16 sanctuaries.

Former Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, introduced a similar bill in 2020, and Congressman Jerry Carl, R-Alabama, has been attempting to pass the bill since 2021. Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, cosponsors the bill. 

Now, it is one step closer to protecting the marine forest.

Some activities prohibited in the marine forest include removing or harvesting the cypress trees and drilling the seabed, but the bill also protects commercial and recreational use of the site.

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Congressman Carl’s bill would frame the area as a tourist attraction. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries authorizes certain activities in the underwater parks, such as fishing and boating. 

Conservation is the ultimate goal, but until it is passed, oil and gas exploration will be allowed at the site. 

If the bill passes the U.S. Senate, the Secretary of Commerce will establish an advisory council for the sanctuary that would include a representative from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. They will then develop a management plan for the sanctuary with input from the general public within two years.

Mary Claire is a reporting intern.

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