32963 Homepage

Want to purchase reprints of your favorite 32963 or photos?

Copies of Vero Beach 32963 can be obtained at the following locations:


Our office HQ: (located at 4855 North A1A)
1. Corey's Pharmacy
2. 7-Eleven

(South A1A)
3. Major Real Estate Offices


1. Vero Beach Book

2. Classic Car Wash
3. Divine Animal
4. Sunshine Furniture

5. Many Medical

Harbor Branch could lose $1.4 million if vanity license plate money redistributed


The legislature was expected to decide this week whether the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation will lose $1.4 million in annual revenue from sale of picturesque license plates vehicle owners buy to support dolphin and whale research and rescue efforts.

A coalition of dolphin research and conservation organizations is pushing hard for an amendment to the state's specialty license plate law that would give each of them a piece of the revenue pie from the "Protect Wild Dolphins" and "Protect Florida Whales" license plates.

Currently, all the money from the plates goes to the Harbor Branch Foundation, which uses it exclusively to fund programs at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. The Foundation says the money is used for research, education and outreach benefitting marine mammals throughout the state.

But members of One Ocean One Health Research Conservation Institute based at Georgia Aquarium's conservation field station in Marineland, Florida, say their nonprofit should take over distributing the funds to Florida organizations that respond to dolphin and whale strandings and conduct scientific research on the animals.

"The people I've talked to are not getting any support from the license plate funds," said Dr. Tim Mullican, a veterinarian at the Marineland field station. "A lot of these operations are run on a shoestring and they rely on volunteers. If they had an additional source of funding, they could do a better job of protecting dolphins. Dolphins are statewide and the funding should be statewide as well."

The organizations supporting the measure include Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Dolphins Plus of Key Largo, Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, Gulf World Marine Institute in the Panhandle, Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory, SeaWorld Rescue in Orlando, Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute in Melbourne Beach, Key West's Marine Animal Rescue Society, and the University of Florida.

The dolphin plate was created in 1998 and the whale tag in 2003, with Harbor Branch administering the money from Florida drivers. Until 2007 when Harbor Branch became part of Florida Atlantic University, it handed out money to several of the groups now backing the amendment.

But that flow of funds stopped in recent years because "the Foundation has chosen to provide grants with these funds to the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute – a research institute at FAU – which has been a leader in the field of oceanographic and marine research," Foundation President and CEO Katha Kissman wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963.

Researchers employed by the Institute are the only ones who can apply for the money.

But One Ocean One Health President Dr. Gregory Bossart, chief veterinary officer at Georgia Aquarium who headed Harbor Branch's marine mammal and conservation program from 2000 to 2008, says his consortium is best suited to decide who gets funds designated for studying and protecting marine mammals.

"It is here that the 'Protect Wild Dolphins' and 'Protect Florida Whales' specialty license plates should find a new home, where transparency and statewide partnerships will once again flourish," Bossart wrote in an April 18 letter to the governor and state lawmakers.

Kissman said the Foundation opposes the amendment and has been lobbying against it in Tallahassee.

"This is an out-of-state organization (Georgia Aquarium) looking to use the legislative process to come in and take money that is not theirs," she wrote in her email. "A more appropriate approach would be for Georgia Aquarium's One Ocean One Health to seek the creation of their own plate to support their mission."

Kissman said specialty tag funds have been used "judiciously" amid careful monitoring and with clean external audits.

If the amendment passes and is signed into law by the governor, Harbor Branch Foundation would still receive revenue from Florida’s “Aquaculture” and “Save Our Seas” specialty license plates. The proposed amendment comes in the midst of a two-year legal battle between the Harbor Branch Foundation and FAU over control of the Foundation's $72 million endowment. The Foundation sued the university in 2017 to prevent it from diverting revenue from the specialty tags and trusts to uses other than marine research. The case is pending before St. Lucie Circuit Judge Lawrence Mirman.