This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Coral Reefs in Congress




Alva, Amanda

Type of Degree

Master's Thesis


Forestry and Wildlife Science


As coral reef ecosystems disappear at an alarming rate, the United States and the wider world are weighing options for bold policy action to stop the loss of climate sensitive ecosystems. It is difficult for policies to get the attention of lawmakers, due to technical feasibility, differences in values, and constraints related to particular problems (Kingdon, 2003). This is doubly true for climate policies in the United States due to partisan politics. However, several recent instances have seen Democrats and Republicans collaborating to sponsor legislation on coral reef conservation, with actions to both lessen the impacts of climate change and adapt to its impacts (i.e. climate mitigation and adaptation). This research examines how coral reef conservation policies are making it onto the policy agenda by analyzing how and why Democratic and Republican policy-makers come to agreement over these policies despite the polarized context of American politics. I use policy process theory, including John Kingdon’s multiple streams framework and Deborah Stone's work on symbols and ambiguity in public policy, to analyze 137 congressional testimonies, press releases, and other policy documents on three bipartisan coral reef conservation policies cases. I use a comparative case study design, examining coral reef conservation policy at different scales: international, national, and state/subnational. Cases include the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Act, which proposes debt for nature foreign aid to countries with coral reefs; the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act which funds new national-level conservation efforts in the United States; and the Offshore Wind for Territories Act which allocates funding from offshore wind in United States territories into a dedicated coral reef conservation fund. My findings show that Democrats and Republicans agree on several key themes when providing rationale for supporting coral conservation policy. These themes include governance, human well-being, and economics. In addition to conceptual agreement on those themes, decision-makers are also more likely to support coral reef legislation if they represent a coastal jurisdiction, have reefs present in their jurisdiction, and are members of the Democratic Party. I propose a novel theoretical framework for decision-maker rationale for support of conservation policy which includes agreement on governance, human well-being, economics, considerations of geography, proximity to threatened ecosystems, and political party identification. The significance of this research is twofold: theorizing how conservation policy agendas are set and asking whether these insights can inform how more controversial policies (e.g. those that address climate change) may be included on the future agenda.