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Environmental Grants Support Sea Turtle Tagging, Protect Marine Species

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Kara Dodge, NMFS Permit #15672
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Feeding leatherback turtle.

Endangered marine life off the New England coast will get some help, thanks to grants recently awarded by the Massachusetts Environmental Trust.

Among some of the local awards, the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium received $40,000 for a program to tag leatherback turtles that have been entangled in ropes and other fishing gear off the Massachusetts coast.

Researcher Kara Dodge is based out of Falmouth, and helps respond to turtle strandings around the region. Most recently, she helped rescue and tag a five-foot-long leatherback off the coast of Plymouth on October 2nd. 

Dodge and her team will now be able to track the estimate 800-pound turtle as it tries to migrate from local waters.

The recent grant will help provide Dodge and other researchers a large data set to be able to know how well these turtles survive after becoming freed from fishing gear. Dodge says there's really only unscientific evidence at this point.

"Right now, we don’t know what percentage of these animals survive and carry on with normal behaviors or can migrate out of the region.”

Leatherbacks are endangered animals. The biggest threats to their survival are entanglements and ship strikes. And the large turtles feed off the local coast in the summer months, at the height of human activity.

The Massachusetts Environmental Trust announced the grants last week. Also announced was a recurring, $200,000 grant for the Center for Coastal Studies, in Provincetown, to help monitor and protect marine animals, including endangered North Atlantic right whales; the Center also received $35,000 to study the gear modifications made in the fishing industry and the impacts they've had on humpback whales. The Association to Preserve Cape Cod was awarded $50,000 to study cyanobacteria, an algae bloom that has become more common in local water bodies.

Grants from the Trust are provided by funding collected through its environmental-themed specialty license plates.

The Baker-Polito Administration announced a total of nearly $600,000 through the grant program in an effort to restore and improve aquatic habitat, rivers, and watersheds and to protect endangered marine animals.