New England Aquarium’s MCAF fellows to connect with local donors

New England Aquarium’s 11 Marine Conservation Action Fund fellows will gather for the first time Wednesday to seek support for conservation projects.

The fellows will connect with local philanthropists and business leaders who can help fund their conservation projects, said Elizabeth Stephenson, program officer and chair of MCAF at the New England Aquarium.

“It’s really incredible,” Stephenson said of having all the fellows together.

Since it’s formation in 1999, the program has raised about $1 million in small grants for over 150 conservation projects, she said. Recipients use the small amount as leverage to receive larger grants.

“These small grants are a nice entry point,” Stephenson said in a phone interview.


Most of the funding comes from individual donations, but foundations such as the Washington, D.C.-based Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation and New England Biolabs of Ipswich also help support the grants, Stephenson said.

The grant money has been used for diverse projects across the world, from Costa Rica to Iran, she said.

One fellow, Andrés Lopez, used the grant money to tag scalloped hammerhead sharks off the west coast of Costa Rica to better understand their habitat and establish Golfo Dulce as a sanctuary. In Peru, fellow Kerstin Forsberg used the funding to study the impact of fisheries on manta rays, finding that many of the captured rays were either juveniles or pregnant. The research led the government to fully protect manta rays, Stephenson said.

The fellowship program, created in 2015, works with previous grant recipients. The fellows are selected based on their communication skills and willingness to share their stories and challenges, Stephenson said.

“There’s a lot of soft skills that are really important when choosing our fellows,” she said.

Upon selection, the fellows travel to the New England Aquarium for 10 days, where they meet scientists and give presentations at both the aquarium and local schools, Stephenson said.


Stephenson said the program is meant to support people working on the ground in developing countries who are more suited to understand local issues.

“It’s about us supporting and elevating the talent that’s there,” she said.

Wednesday’s sold-out networking event will be held at District Hall in the Seaport at 6 p.m., she said.

The program will host another event Saturday Nov. 2 at the WBUR CitySpace from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The event will feature speeches and panels on topics such as energizing youth and empowering indigenous conservation effort, Stephenson said.

Andrew Stanton can be reached at andrew.stanton@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @_andrewstanton.