Spare change helps spare endangered rain forests

August 15, 1993|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

One of the most successful exhibits at the National Aquarium in Baltimore isn't underwater and doesn't feature living creatures.

But it does have to be fed.

It's the Conservation Parking Meter, a converted parking meter installed in the rooftop Rain Forest exhibit as part of a national effort to buy and protect rain forest land in South and Central America.

Since it appeared in 1991 with the slogan "Give Your Change to Make a Change," the parking meter has raised more than $100,000 from people who stop and empty their pockets.

The money has helped the nonprofit Nature Conservancy and its partners buy more than 3,000 acres of rain forest land -- 2,500 in Belize and 500 in Costa Rica.

"It's very contagious," said Rosemary Krussman, conservation coordinator at the aquarium. "People are in the Rain Forest exhibit, and they've seen the display about the disappearance of the rain forests. Once they realize that this is a chance to do something positive about it, they want to help."

The campaign is a cooperative effort of the Nature Conservancy and the American Association of Zookeepers' Ecosystem Survival Program.

More than 50 U.S. zoos and aquariums have installed parking meters to raise money for the campaign, along with 100 branches of the Nature Company retail chain. But the National Aquarium's meter has collected more than any other.

Aquarium officials said 100 percent of the donated money goes to buy rain forest property. A quarter buys 90 square feet of rain forest -- the equivalent of a 9-by-10-foot room. A dime buys 36 square feet, and a nickel buys 18 square feet. Every $300 buys 2 1/2 acres.

The largest donation has come from two pre-teens who live in Connecticut. They put in more than $70. Aquarium officials say ++ the young benefactors visited the aquarium one weekend and were so inspired by the parking meter that they went home, collected money from their friends and neighbors, and had their parents bring them back to deposit it.

The meter "allows children to donate at their savings level -- as little as a nickel -- and have a real sense of the impact a small contribution can have on the environment," said Jack Cover, curator of the Rain Forest exhibit.

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