In the vast areas of the planet covered by water, human activity threatens the survival of countless species.
There was a time, for example, when manta rays were tossed back, dead or alive, when they were accidentally trapped in fishermen’s nets in places like Sri Lanka. Now their dried gills are prized in China for treating everything from cancer to measles — without any proof that they are effective — and one of the sea’s most majestic creatures is being fished nearly out of existence.
In Pakistan and India, the blind Indus River dolphin, one of the most endangered species, swims a shrinking stretch of water, trapped by development and dams.
And in Chile, fishermen who cannot afford to properly dispose of torn nets simply tip them into the sea, adding to the offshore trash that chokes seabirds and fish.
Overfishing, habitat loss and pollution threaten species in so many places that research and conservation organizations cannot do all that is needed. So, with the aim of making a dent through small, targeted efforts, the New England Aquarium, which sits on Boston’s downtown waterfront, has for 15 years awarded microgrants to projects across the globe.
The aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund has paid out $700,000 since 1999, supporting 122 projects in 40 countries on six continents. Elizabeth Stephenson, the fund’s manager, calls these projects “stories of hope for the ocean.”
The grants are modest. One researcher, Rohan Arthur, used his $6,700 payout from the fund to buy a “secondhand, beat-up compressor” to fill his scuba tanks. But the support allowed him to maintain his critical assessment of coral reefs in the Arabian Sea off the west coast of India.
Dr. Arthur, a senior scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation in Karnataka, India, said that in some ways, he preferred the scale of the New England Aquarium gifts.
“There’s a lot to be said for large grants,” Dr. Arthur said, but “often they’re fairly limiting in what they allow you to do.” Small grants, he said, offer more freedom, but can still be transformative. “They’ve been change points in the amount we’ve been able to engage in the ecology of these reefs.”
The Latest on: New England Aquarium Save the Oceans
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