At Tuesday’s congressional briefing on marine mammal strandings, Congressmen William Keating, D-Mass., and Jared Huffman, D-Calif., spoke to approximately 80 congressional staffers and others about how crucial The John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program is for conducting important marine mammal rescue work and government-mandated research not only for their states, but nationwide.
Marine mammal strandings are plaguing the U.S. coasts at alarming numbers. Since January 2013, over 1,000 California sea lion pups have appeared on shore starving and sickly. Along the eastern seaboard, bottlenose dolphin strandings are far surpassing the dolphin strandings of 2012 when during the first three months alone, over 200 of the animals washed up on the beaches of Cape Cod.
The Prescott Grant Program is the only federal support program specifically designated for stranding response and research. Funded at roughly $4 million annually, appropriations for the Prescott program have drastically declined since 2013; it is currently earmarked to receive only $1 million.
Now is not the time for cutbacks to the Prescott Grant. Stranding events are not only occurring more often, but with greater, record-breaking intensity – rendering the program even more important and necessary.
Between 2001-2010, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration awarded Prescott Grant funds to a network of qualified stranding organizations, mostly non-profits. The funds were used for the rehabilitation and release of close to 10,000 marine mammals, as well as massive data collection from animals both living and dead used to facilitate investigations of potential human or animal health threats.
A key aspect of the Prescott Grant is that recipients are required to match a minimum of 25 percent of the grant money received. Between 2001-2010, this cost-sharing leveraged an additional $8.65 million.
As Congress undergoes the appropriations process, now is the time to make a difference and understand how essential the Prescott Grant is for stranding groups. The continued reduction of funds — or worse, the elimination of funds altogether — would have a devastating effect on their ability to perform vital rescue, rehabilitation, and research work.
Congress should restore previous funding levels to the grant program. This will enable organizations to quickly and effectively respond in the future while helping to ensure our health and safety, as well as that of our precious marine environment.
Katie Moore is program director-Animal Rescue for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.