Dolphins Have a Friend in Statehouse

     CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – He came, he saw, he made a splash for dolphins. At the urging of Philippe Cousteau, South Carolina will start selling a “Protect Wild Dolphins” specialty license plate on July 30. Money from it will go to scientific and educational Programs to help the dolphins that live off the Carolina coast.

     Programs that will benefit include those sponsored by Cousteau’s Earth Echo International, an environmental nonprofit group; groups that collect, analyze and archive scientific data on the wild dolphins off South Carolina; and care and assistance for stranded dolphins.
     The license plate program is part of multi-state effort to help wild dolphin programs all along the Southeast Coast.
     Earth Echo has won approval for Protect Wild Dolphin license plates in Louisiana, Georgia and Alabama. And it hopes to have a dolphin plate in Virginia in 2010.
     North Carolina already has a Protect Wild Dolphins license plate, which supports research, conservation and education programs at the N.C. Maritime Museum.
     Michael Towner, a spokesman for Earth Echo and its subsidiary, , said Cousteau wants to work with local organizations that “have established program related to restoring and protecting the ocean environment and fresh water system, as well as those devoted to sustaining and protecting a sentinel species – the wild dolphin.”
     “As we continue our research and other efforts, we also intend to distribute information to the local scientific community, federal, state and local agencies, educational institutions and all South Carolinians for the purpose of protecting and preserving wild dolphins,” Towner said.
     “All money raised in each of these states will be used for the benefit of programs within those states.”
     Towner said Cousteau and his organization hit on the idea for a plate while trying to come up with new sources of funding for Earth Echo’s activities in the face of the global economic crisis.
     “As you know, when it comes to nonprofits, everybody is scrambling right now,” he said.
     Cousteau and his team spoke with Steve McCulloch, who for years has been studying the 200 to 800 dolphins who live in the Indian River Lagoon along Florida’s east coast, and who, as director of the Dolphin Research and Conservation Program at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce, Fla., spearheaded the drive for that state’s Protect Wild Dolphins license plate.
     McCulloch explained how he got Florida to issue the license plate, and how well it has served as a vehicle to fund his research.
     “We wanted to work with as many coastal states as we could because dolphins don’t have state boundaries,” Towner said. “In each state we’ll work with their particular organizations, because it is at the local level that the funding is most needed – that’s particularly true of those groups that are already licensed to respond to dolphin strandings.”
     Cousteau, son of the famed inventor of the scuba tank, visited Charleston this spring at the behest of the South Carolina Aquarium.

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