Time To Give Back

The Story Behind Mote Marine Laboratory

Courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory November 26, 2009

The year was 1955, and in a tiny shed in Charlotte County, FL, Dr. Eugenie Clark founded Mote Marine Laboratory, originally called the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory. With the small structure and a 21-foot Chris Craft, Clark’s cutting-edge research focused primarily on sharks and drew prestigious scientists from around the globe who collaborated and utilized her facility. Around 1965, a one-of-a-kind man stepped forward. After traveling the world in search of angling’s greatest thrills, Mr. William R. Mote, a Tampa native, decided that he wanted to spend his retirement doing something beneficial for the sea he loved so much. His idea was to begin a marine laboratory and in his investigations into such a venture, Mr. Mote met Dr. Clark. Instead of beginning a lab, he decided to put his business skills to work to help Clark’s research. In 1967, the laboratory was renamed for the man who supported its research and truly believed in its mission.

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A Successful Angler Carefully Scrapes A Piece Of Skin For Further Analysis Photo: Jenni Bennett

Fast forward a few decades and Mote Marine Laboratory has now grown to a 10.5-acre campus in Sarasota, FL, with field stations in Sarasota County, Summerland Key, Charlotte Harbor and a public exhibit in Key West. In addition to Mote’s storied research lab, the non-profit organization also recognizes the importance of educating the general public about sea science. The lab’s adjoining aquarium highlights Mote’s research and showcases more than 100 marine species. Today, Mote is one of the few organizations in the world that combines marine research with public outreach through a full-fledged aquarium. From its original focus on sharks, Mote’s research has expanded to seven research centers including aquaculture, fisheries, coral reefs, marine mammals and sea turtles, environmental toxins, coastal ecology and, of course, the study of sharks. Although all of Mote’s research supports healthy marine life and ecosystems, the aquaculture, fisheries, and coral reef research centers also play an important role in the life of the recreational angler. A viable ocean with healthy fish stocks means recreational anglers can continue to enjoy their time spent on the water.

Florida has the only barrier reef system in the continental United States, a natural treasure that took millions of years to create…

Mote’s Marine Aquaculture Research Program is dedicated to developing the technologies needed to raise fish species that have a high market value as food resources and a high recreational value. The scientists at Mote seek the most cost-efficient means and environmentally sustainable methods to raise snook, pompano, red drum, hard corals and long-spined sea urchins.

The mission of the Center for Fisheries Enhancement is to preserve and enhance coastal fish and invertebrate populations, while stock enhancement research aims to develop responsible and effective restocking methods for marine fish populations—especially those fish important to recreational anglers—including tarpon. Mote’s goals also include restoring depleted game fish populations. In 2008, Mote began working with Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute on the Tarpon Genetic Recapture Study. In this program, anglers are invited to take a sample of tarpon skin cells and send those samples in for DNA analysis. The DNA helps researchers determine survival rates, health, migration and movements of individual fish.

Mote’s snook research focuses on spawning snook in captivity, fish that will eventually be released into the wild. As one of the most important recreational species in Florida, snook’s popularity has ultimately led to their decline. Mote’s annual William R. Mote Memorial Invitational Snook Shindig includes a research-related fishing tournament designed to get anglers involved in the restocking program and to measure Mote’s success at introducing snook back into area waterways. Snook caught during the catch-and-release fishing tournament are inspected by Mote researchers who are able to recover information from any Mote-grown fish that had been tagged before release into Sarasota Bay. The information is used to create the best protocols for release of captive-grown fish. Mote scientists first released hatchery-reared snook in 1997 and have since tagged and released more than 52,000 fish in Sarasota-area waters.

In addition to the many research projects going on at the lab, education for future anglers is also a top priority at Mote. Various kids’ fishing clinics held throughout the year encourage children to learn about fishing and conservation while having fun.

Florida has the only barrier reef system in the continental United States, a natural treasure that took millions of years to create. It deserves our protection. Sadly, worldwide corals are in decline, but research can help us understand why and what to do about it. Mote’s Coral Reef Research Center provides important information concerning the health of an ecosystem that many fish rely on at some point during their lives. Scientists estimate that 25 to 40-percent of the oceans’ finfish spend all or some of their lives inhabiting reefs. Even pelagic species rely on forage fish that were spawned or sheltered on nutrient-rich reefs. Mote’s coral research efforts include lab studies and fieldwork ranging from microbiology and genetics research, to the research and development of methods and technologies for reef restoration.

The effects of natural and man-made influences on reefs are also of great importance. Current projects include monitoring ultraviolet light penetration of reef waters and the influence of environmental factors. Mote also monitors harmful algal blooms and other marine events and assesses their potential impact on the reef environment. In addition, the Mote team has developed a community-based coral bleaching monitoring and assessment program that includes water sample collections and underwater surveys.

In order to supplement traditional sources of funding for research and conservation—including private donations and state and federal grants—Mote created the Protect Our Reefs specialty license plate in 2003. Approximately 90-percent of the funds raised through the sale of this license plate supports reef-related research, conservation, and education efforts. About half of that funding supports Mote’s Tropical Research Laboratory in the Florida Keys, where ecologists are working tirelessly to improve the condition of local reefs. In addition to supporting Mote’s own research, nearly 40-percent of the funds are made available as grants to Florida-based non-profit organizations for reef-specific research, conservation, and education projects. In the four years of its existence, the Protect Our Reefs license plate grants program has funded 62 research projects—adding up to more than $1.8 million in support. Efforts have included debris removal on reefs, training snorkelers and divers on how to avoid damaging corals, supporting research that may one day lead to cures for coral diseases, and growing corals for replacement on the reefs.

As one of the world’s few remaining private marine research laboratories, Mote is working hard to continue groundbreaking research that will allow everyone to learn more about and enjoy the ocean and its inhabitants for generations to come—and to protect those same resources. Mr. Mote truly said it best, “For countless ages, man has taken from the sea. Now it is time for us to give back.”

How to Help

Florida’s coral reefs attract and support more than $1.2 billion dollars a year from both tourists and residents. Reefs are an engine for Florida’s economy, driving tourism, recreational and commercial fisheries and even protecting our shorelines by mitigating the effects of coastal erosion. Education and conservation efforts help reduce our impact. If you are a Florida driver, you can help the cause. Proudly purchase the license plate that helps fund research, education and conservation and you’ll be helping preserve Florida’s unique underwater beauty. Visit www.mote.org/4reef for more information.

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