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Pew Institute Wins National Geographic Grant

May 17, 2005

The Pew Institute has received a $15,000 grant for beluga research from National Geographic Society's Conservation Trust, which funds projects that contribute significantly to the preservation and sustainable use of the Earth's biological, cultural, and historical resources.

The lead scientist on the grant is Phaedra Doukakis. Ellen Pikitch ('00), the Executive Director of the Pew Institute, is one of five co-collaborators on the grant. The grant will be used to study the beluga sturgeon, producer of the coveted beluga caviar, which currently faces extinction due to overfishing and habitat degradation, having lost 90 percent of its breeding habitat to dams. The research, done in collaboration with Kazakhstani scientists and managers, will focus on beluga of the Ural River of Kazakhstan, the last place on earth where beluga reproduce unhindered by dams. With virtually nothing known about this population, fieldwork will study population characteristics and track beluga migration with genetic work elucidating evolutionary uniqueness and population structure. Complementary education and outreach programs will seek to inspire, inform, and foster decision-making balancing economic and ecological realities. A comprehensive plan for safeguarding beluga will result, including habitat protection and sustainable fisheries management schemes.

***Phaedra Doukakis works with Caviar Emptor--a program of the Pew Institute, The National Resources Defense Council, and SeaWeb to protect and restore threatened Caspian Sea sturgeon. She has studied sturgeon for over 10 years, conducting research on forensic regulation of the caviar trade, systematics, evolution and population structure of sturgeon and paddlefishes, and international policy. She received her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from Yale University in 2000. She also maintains strong research interests in African fisheries management, with active projects in the region.

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