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For Immediate Release: Aug 21, 2003
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

CUT UNDERWATER CABLE THREATENS CORAL REEFS

$2 Billion Annual Return to Florida from Reefs at Risk, Says New Report


Vero Beach -- A telecommunications cable owned by AT&T Corporation was severed from the ocean floor by a dredging ship near fragile reefs off Vero Beach, according to Save The Reefs and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The incident underscores environmentalists' recommendations that the state instead bury cables under the reefs using bi-directional drilling rather than the plan before Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet this coming Monday, August 25.

Driven by ocean currents, the severed fiber optic cable can rip through sensitive reefs and damage other marine life. The loose cable was not re-anchored for two weeks, according to Save The Reefs. The accident occurred when the dredge equipment broke while excavating near the cable. Ironically, the dredge was removing sand from a spot in which it did not have authorization to operate.

Today, PEER also released the final part of its four-part study of the impact of fiber optic cables on coral reefs. The report by economist James Spurgeon finds that coral reef resources in southeast Florida are of considerable value: "Within Broward County alone they contribute over $2 billion to the economy each year." The report warns that these economic benefits are in jeopardy because "Florida's hard coral cover is declining, from an estimated 10.3% in 1996 to 6.4% in 2000, due to a multitude of predominantly human induced stresses."

For weeks, Governor Bush and his aides have been agonizing over new rules to regulate the impact of fiber optic cable-laying across Florida's coral reef zones. PEER and other groups have been urging Gov. Bush to adopt more rigorous rules protecting Florida's near-shore reefs from the growing peril of telecommunications industry development along the state's coastlines.

The PEER economic report also recommends that the state set higher fees that not only reflect the commercial value of the cable rights-of-way but also recover environmental costs associated with monitoring and repairing cables. State-owned underwater property is leased to fiber optic companies at cut-rate prices, because Florida is one of only three coastal states that do not collect a fee based upon fair market value--fiber optic cables can generate more than $5,000 per minute in profit to operators.

"This latest cable accident highlights the irresponsibility of the state's current approach to protecting a dwindling and precious resource," stated PEER General Counsel Dan Meyer, a former naval officer. "Coral reefs are also an economic engine for Florida that will keep running only if Governor Bush takes steps to stop trashing fragile reefs and adopt environmentally safe options that are available."

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See the Save the Reef letter on the severed Vero Beach fiber-optic cable

Read "Economic Issues Relating to Coral Reef Damages From Submarine Fiber Optic Cables Permitted Across Sovereign Submerged Lands of the State of Florida" Part IV of the PEER Coral Reef Jury Report

View Parts I Through III of the PEER Coral Reef Jury Report:

Part III: Engineering Investigation and Findings

Part II: Regulatory Analysis

Part I: Biological Impacts of Fiber Optic Cables on Reefs