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Aquarium of Niagara Executive Director Nancy Chapin stands among the sharks. The Aquarium needs supporters to text the number 102344 to the Pepsi Corporation at 73774 to try and win a $50,000 grant which will be put towards a coral reef project. (Dan Cappellazzo/Photo)

The Aquarium of Niagara is hoping a boost in public support will help it win a competitive $50,000 grant to create a living coral reef.

The grant being administered through the Pepsi Refresh project allocates funding to different organizations, individuals or ideas based on the number of votes the project receives in a one-month period.

Aquarium Director of Development Gay B. Molnar said the aquarium hosts 235,000 visitors annually and is in dire need of votes from residents across Niagara and Eric counties.

If awarded, the grant would aid in educating visitors about environmental and economic importance of reefs, establish a coral research and propagation/reproduction program and educate visitors about how recent climate changes are a severe threat to the existence of coral reefs — all in an 800-gallon living reef exhibit.

The reef exhibit, which Molnar said would not be financially possible without the grant, would feature an array of corals, fish, and invertebrates and be created utilizing space currently housing two outdated exhibits.

There are a handful of different ways people can vote for the coral reef project and require access to a computer or a cell phone. You can vote directly on Pepsi’s grant website, www.refresheverything.com/niagarareefproject, or by accessing the Aquarium of Niagara’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/aquariumofniagara. Votes can also be sent by cell phones by texting the number 102344 to 73774.

Molnar wants to use the grant to give local residents and visitors an opportunity to see a living coral reef, while teaching of their importance at the same time.

“Some people will never ever be able to see a living coral reef, also with us being an educational facility part of the component is the ability to teach people about how coral reefs live, what is in their environment,” Molnar said. “We really need the support of everyone ... to help us achieve this very very important project.”

Pepsi awards 10 grants in different categories each month to the projects which garner the most votes. Currently, the Aquarium is currently ranked 94 in terms of votes received and would need to stay in the top 100 at the end of October to stay in the running for  the grant in November.

Molnar said she believes with the support of local residents the Aquarium can begin climbing the charts over the next two weeks. People can cast up to 10 votes on any given day.

“Vote for us, support us, vote, vote, vote,” Molnar said. “Vote every day, vote every time you log onto your computer. This will be a tremendous project for this community and we need the support.”

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