GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA – The Florida-based Caribbean Conservation Corporation (CCC), the world’s oldest non-profit sea turtle protection group, has been appointed by Florida lawmakers to manage the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program. Funded by a portion of revenues from Florida’s sea turtle specialty license plate, the grants Program distributes over $300,000 each year to support sea turtle research, conservation and education Programs throughout Florida.
Florida Senator Rod Smith and Representatives Dave Murzin and Stan Mayfield sponsored bills that transfer administrative responsibility for the grants Program from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) to the private CCC. The new law, which takes affect July 1, received unanimous support in both chambers of the Florida legislature and was signed by Governor Jeb Bush.
CCC designed and sponsored the establishment of the sea turtle license plate in 1997 by presenting state lawmakers with over 10,000 petitions and a marketing plan for the new tag. The turtle tag quickly became one of the most popular specialty plates in Florida, raising over $1 million annually. At just $17.50 per tag, the turtle plate is also one of the least expensive specialty plates in Florida.
“Over 90% of all the sea turtle nesting in the United States takes place in Florida,” said CCC Executive Director David Godfrey. “We established the tag to provide a permanent funding source for turtle research and protection Programs being conducted by State biologists and the many independent turtle protection groups working in Florida.”
All of the funding generated by the tag is required by law to support sea turtle protection in Florida. Seventy-percent of the funding goes to the FWCC’s Florida Marine Research Institute and the Bureau of Protected Species to support research and management activities related to sea turtles. The remaining 30% of revenue now will be distributed to CCC, which will then redistribute the funding through a competitive grants Program supporting turtle projects that benefit Florida sea turtles.
“The grants Program provides a fair method of redistributing funds from the turtle tag back to the local level,” said Godfrey. “By privatizing the management of the Program, CCC will be able to award grants faster and cheaper by streamlining the way grants are reviewed and managed.”
Three sea turtle species regularly nest on Florida beaches, and each are considered either endangered or threatened. Numerous groups and institutions around the state are working to protect sea turtles and raise awareness about their plight. Through the grants Program, coastal counties, research institutions and Florida non-profit groups can apply for funding to support their activities. An independent committee of experts appointed by CCC will review grants and select the best ones for funding each year. With nearly $300,000 to distribute annually, the Florida Sea Turtle Grants Program is one of the world’s largest sources of funding for sea turtle research and protection.
During the upcoming fiscal year, CCC will award 20 grants totaling about $275,000. Projects chosen for funding were selected in March by the Grant Selection Committee. The largest grant ($30,910) was awarded to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida for research into the behavior and migration patterns of the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle in Florida’s Ten Thousand Islands. The smallest grant went to Brevard County to purchase night vision scopes for use in a sea turtle education Program. Researchers at the University of Florida also received just under $25,000 for a study on juvenile sea turtles in the Florida Panhandle.
Godfrey said “CCC is honored to be entrusted with the responsibility of managing this important conservation Program. Citizens can be directly involved in sea turtle conservation by purchasing an official Sea Turtle Specialty License Plate or one of the mock plates developed by CCC for people outside of Florida.” Since its founding in 1959 by University of Florida professor Dr. Archie Carr, CCC has maintained its headquarters in Gainesville. The group also runs a biological field station in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, and conducts other ongoing sea turtle research and conservation projects in Florida, Bermuda, Panama, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. For more information about the Sea Turtle Grants Program, you can visit www.helpingseaturtles.org.