During 2016, Mote Marine Laboratory began a new chapter in its 61-year mission of today’s research for tomorrow’s oceans, thanks to the humbling generosity of 23,000 supporters.

These supporters of all ages committed nearly $52 million in donations to Mote’s first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign, Oceans of Opportunity. This successful campaign, spanning January 2015-October 2016, is helping Mote deepen its positive impact on the grand challenges facing oceans locally and globally, in line with the Lab’s 2020 Vision & Strategic Plan. So far, visible impacts include: Mote’s new International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration under construction in the Florida Keys, a Fisheries Conservation and Enhancement Initiative in Sarasota Bay, more support for the best and brightest scientists and more educational opportunities for underserved children. These examples are just the beginning.

This year, Mote is home to 34 Ph.D. scientists, including two new postdoctoral scientists. Two additional new postdoctoral scientists will join the staff prior to the end of the year for a total of 220 staff members. Mote researchers produced 37 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals and produced 90 technical reports and three book chapters.

This year Mote Aquarium — an informal science education center — shared the Lab’s research with 344,229 visitors. That strong turnout was enhanced by “Otters & Their Waters,” an exhibit launched in 2016 that features three North American river otters as ambassadors for watershed environments. On Feb. 25, 2017, Mote Aquarium will open an exciting new exhibit: “The Teeth Beneath: The Wild World of Gators, Crocs and Caimans.”

Mote’s education programs served more than 31,000 people of all ages, and the Mote Mobile exhibit traveled to bring Mote science to an estimated 93,000 more this year. The Lab also hosted 201 college interns and 58 high school interns.

Mote’s dedicated team of 1,524 volunteers helped all of this year’s successes happen, contributing 127,140 hours of service for the benefit of our oceans. In addition, 9,700 people began or continued supporting the Lab as Mote Members this year.

Below are Mote’s 2016 stories by month, including many new updates. Have happy holidays and a bright New Year!


Study: Greenhouse gas can escape deep ocean in surprising way
In January, Mote announced a peer-reviewed study in Marine Chemistry that helped reveal a new piece of the global carbon cycle. According to the study, the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide can emerge from deep-sea muck in a surprising way — a process usually described in shallower water. The results call into question some common assumptions about carbon cycling.
Undersea sediments are important in the global carbon cycle, which must be understood to grasp large-scale processes like climate change.

Mote thanks longest-serving volunteer for 35 years of support
Dave Bowman wrapped up 35 years of volunteering at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, Mote announced in January. He logged 16,289 hours sharing his passion for the ocean and educating Mote guests from all over the world about Mote’s marine research and conservation efforts.

In December 2015, Bowman was named Volunteer Emeritus, a title given to retired volunteers who still very much believe in Mote’s mission. He plans to be involved as much as he can from his new home. He wants to stay connected to the current volunteers, volunteer for special events and continue sharing Mote’s story with people he meets along the way.


Study: Shark with lowest-known metabolism is a sluggish success

Mote research announced in February revealed that nurse sharks have the lowest metabolic rate measured in any shark — new evidence of the sluggish lifestyle that has helped the species survive for millennia.

The study enhances knowledge about the metabolism of sharks — marine predators whose energy needs are little-understood but suspected to play a big role in the workings of healthy ecosystems. The study was printed in the April volume of the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. It was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Mote scientist identifies first U.S. black grouper spawning site
Mote scientist Dr. James Locascio described the first-known U.S. spawning site for black grouper in a February print volume of U.S. Fishery Bulletin, the nation’s oldest peer-reviewed fisheries journal.

This black grouper spawning site, Riley’s Hump in the Tortugas South Ecological Reserve of the Florida Keys, also hosts spawning, or reproductive activity, of red grouper and red hind.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program.

Demolition making way for Mote’s new lab in Keys
Mote began the demolition of its buildings in the Florida Keys on Feb. 18 to make way for the construction of its new International Coral Reef Research and Restoration. That day, Mote leaders, scientists and supporters joined construction contractors for a hard-hat kickoff ceremony of sledgehammer blows and heavy-duty excavation on Summerland Key.

Initial demolition finished within weeks. Lab facilities remained intact and research continued. During summer 2016, all 178 foundation piles for the new facility were drilled, all pile caps installed, the nearby seawall extended and progress made with underground plumbing and electric work.
During late summer into early fall, a 100-ton capacity crane and multiple precast concrete panels were delivered, and vertical construction began. In September Hurricane Matthew blew through eastern Florida — a reminder of why Mote chose to construct a hurricane-resistant facility on Summerland Key. The construction process continued safely and smoothly. By mid-October, one of the building’s six Bays (structural sections) was installed and the second was in progress. The precast concrete components were manufactured in Fort Myers.

In December, Mote celebrated the last steps of outer construction.

Mote scientist honored by global aquaculture community
Mote Senior Scientist Dr. Kevan Main was honored with the Fellow of the World Aquaculture Society Award during the Feb. 23 opening ceremony of the society’s conference in Las Vegas. The World Aquaculture Society, which has 3,000 members in about 100 countries, represents the global community of professionals involved in aquaculture — farming aquatic life forms such as fish. Each Fellow of WAS is “a member who has made outstanding achievements in aquaculture science, industry, outreach or extension as recognized by his/her peers,” according to the WAS website.

“Otters & Their Waters” exhibit debuts

In late February, Mote Aquarium visitors had their first chance to meet three playful North American river otters — Huck, Pippi and Jane — in the new exhibit “Otters & Their Waters.” The exhibit provides an otter’s-eye view of watersheds — lands that drain water toward rivers, estuaries and the sea — are important to people and myriad wildlife, including river otters, their prey and many animals from land to the coastal oceans where Mote Marine Laboratory scientists carry out their research.

  • Updates: Otters Huck, Pippi and Jane initially arrived behind the scenes at Mote Aquarium about one year ago, and they’re doing great. Jane and Pippi have grown significantly, gaining more than 5 pounds each. Training sessions — designed to benefit the otters’ care and provide enrichment — have continued to progress. Visitors can watch otter trainings at 1:30 p.m. daily. Mote Aquarium is open 365 days per year, including all holidays.
  • Adopt an otter or another Mote Aquarium animal — a wonderful way to support Mote and its resident animals.


Entangled dolphin rescued near Nokomis
A 10-year-old, long-term Sarasota Bay resident male bottlenose dolphin was rescued from a life threatening entanglement in a crab trap line on March 1 near Venice Inlet.
Capt. Dove Barratt of Sail Venice first spotted the entangled dolphin and gave Mote coordinates to its location. A rescue team from the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), a program of the Chicago Zoological Society in partnership with Mote, led by staff member Aaron Barleycorn, successfully located and disentangled the dolphin. Once the gear was removed, the dolphin slowly swam away.

  • March press release 
  • Update: The dolphin, nicknamed “Bill” by SDRP scientists, has been observed 12 times by SDRP since his rescue and appears to have recovered fully from his entanglement. His last few sightings were with 9-year-old male “JoBob.” They are showing some signs of forming a male alliance, a bond that could last for the remainder of their lives.


Supporter participates in his 30th Run for the Turtles
Dean Cutshall, now 73 years old, first put his feet forward for turtle research and conservation 30 years ago during Mote’s Run for the Turtles. On April 2, 2016, Cutshall participated in his 30th Run for the Turtles. This annual, family-friendly 5K run raises awareness and funds for Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program, which coordinates conservation of endangered sea turtles along 35 miles of Sarasota County beaches.
·      March press release

Fish studies ramp up in the wake of Deepwater Horizon

By April 2016, Mote and collaborators were well into their latest studies focused on long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As a partner in C-IMAGE II, a consortium with funding from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, Mote is investigating how specific levels of oil components affect fish under highly controlled conditions in the lab. These lab studies rigorously examine oil-related changes in immune and reproductive health, viability of offspring and other traits important for maintaining Gulf fish populations; lab results provide important baseline data to better interpret and help “decode” research findings from wild fish sampled during and after the spill. Together, lab and field studies aim to provide a head start in understanding threats to the health of Gulf fisheries for decades to come.

Since 2015, Mote Senior Scientist and C-IMAGE II Toxicology Task Lead Dr. Dana Wetzel Mote Senior Scientist Dr. Kevan Main have been carrying out oil-exposure studies at Mote Aquaculture Research Park (MAP) with three important Gulf of Mexico marine fishes — red drum, pompano and southern flounder. These studies, using Deepwater Horizon oil or South Louisiana Crude oil, are helping to rigorously document specific ways that oil can affect immune and reproductive health, viability of offspring and other traits important for maintaining fish populations.

Updates: During December 2016, Wetzel reported the following progress:

  • Lab work is complete for a study involving injecting oil into the peritoneum (body cavity) of all three fish species, and scientists have been assessing the resulting 381 blood and tissue samples for many potential effects.
  • Lab work is also complete for a study on how red drum (redfish) accumulate and ultimately eliminate water-associated oil compounds in their bodies, with 1,834 blood and tissue samples collected. Another 54 samples were collected from pompano exposed through water.
  • Pompano spawning lab work is complete, with 2,200 samples including tissue, eggs and larvae collected to study how oil exposure can affect the reproduction of parent fish and survival of their young.
  • 980 blood and tissue samples were collected to assess the effects of oil-contaminated food on red drum.

During 2017, Mote scientists and colleagues aim to replicate fish exposure experiments, validate preliminary results and synthesize data toward a bigger-picture understanding of oil impacts. Mote aims to continue working with C-IMAGE II Toxicology Task partners at the University of South Florida, Texas A&M University, University of West Florida and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, to document the possible variety of adverse outcomes fish can experience, and how those can occur and influence one another, following oil exposure.

Based on preliminary findings from Mote’s exposure studies, Mote scientists are paying close attention to potential changes in immune-system, metabolism and stress process and related genetics in exposed red drum, possible changes in reproductive success for pompano, and other possible signs of health impacts, down to the molecular level. These data will be verified and details ultimately published as part of a major C-IMAGE goal: Connecting oil impacts on individual fish to broader impacts on fish populations, and in turn, long term population effects that might occur years after a spill. This has never been achieved for Gulf of Mexico fish.

Study released: Young dolphin mortality following Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Researchers have been closely monitoring  bottlenose dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico since an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) began in February 2010 and following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The team has reported that perinatal dolphins throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were susceptible to fetal distress and in utero infections during the UME.

In a peer-reviewed study published April 12, 2016, the team linked the perinatal deaths to poor maternal health following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Perinatal means nearly born or very recently born.)

The April 12 paper’s lead author is from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Co-authors hail from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other institutions, including Mote Marine Laboratory. Mote and several other contributors are partners in the Marine Mammal Stranding Network overseen by NOAA.

  • NOAA’s April 12 press release
  • Media should address questions to NOAA and University of Illinois. Scroll to the bottom of NOAA’s press release for media contacts.
  • Media specifically interested in Mote’s role in the study should contact Kaitlyn Fusco (941-302-4997, kfusco@mote.org) or Hayley Rutger (941-374-0081, hrutger@mote.org).

First fish survey in Sarasota County canal system
In April, Mote researchers announced that they were conducting the first scientific survey of fishes in human-made canals of Sarasota County. These canals were designed for flood control, and until now, no one had systematically studied how they might benefit native fisheries.
In April the researchers used seine nets to catch and release fish throughout the county’s largest canal system, which drains into Phillippi Creek, documenting the species diversity and abundance of fishes, along with characteristics of their habitats.

  • April press release
  • Update: As of early December, Mote scientists have completed the field work and will soon begin analyzing their data. Preliminary findings to date:

Mote scientists found abundant snook at some sites in Phillippi Creek, in the storm-water management canals north of Bahia Vista which were not initially designed as fish habitat. Also, large mouth bass were found to reproduce in the creek system. Both species are popular sport fish of interest to Mote researchers and southwest Florida communities. To learn more about the value of creek habitats to fish, Mote scientists will tabulate the abundance and diversity of fish species and relate these to the environmental conditions in the system.

Twins born to manatee with fascinating history
A manatee gave birth to rare twins during April in southwest Florida, reported Mote scientists who confirmed the mother’s identity from a video and know her history from 23 years of observations.

On April 15, female manatee “Tomo-Bella” and her newborn twins were observed in Grand Canal along Siesta Key by members of the public. Onlooker Karl Nelson sent his video to Mote scientists, who identified the mother. Mote scientists first observed Tomo-Bella in 1993 in Pansy Bayou near Lido Key. Since then, they have observed her 230 times in many parts of Sarasota Bay, along with Fort Myers during winter. In 1995, Mote documented Tomo-Bella with a calf — the first of eight she has been documented with so far. The 2016 calves are her first twins.

  • April press release
  • Update: Tomo-Bella was observed 13 times this summer and once this fall (Nov. 4). A third calf, larger than the twins, was seen with Tomo-Bella three times, twice nursing. It’s unclear if the third calf was an orphaned calf taking advantage of a lactating female, or if Tomo-Bella was potentially “babysitting” calves from other females.  It is also uncertain whether the observed third calf was the same individual each time, due to the lack of identifying markings. However, its larger size and slightly lighter coloration set it apart from the twins.

This finding greatly interests Mote scientists, who hope to learn whether/how an additional calf will compete with the twins and affect their survival odds.

In addition, the toxic Florida red tide algae (Karenia brevis) has persisted in many of Tomo-Bella’s usual “hangouts,” including locations where she was seen this summer. Though she and her calves did not necessarily show obvious, acute signs of red-tide exposure during sightings, manatees with previous red-tide exposure are more susceptible to disease and health complications.

Mote scientists hope to observe Tomo-Bella and her calves more during winter, the season when Tomo-Bella usually visits the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area.


Supporters help Mote hospital save sea turtles
Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital has cared for 562 sea turtles since 1995, helping animals in need while supporting a better understanding of marine animal health to inform veterinary care and conservation in the wild.

In April and May, generous donations supported this critical mission.

  • Sea Turtle Grants Program: In April, Mote thanked the Sea Turtle Grants Program for awarding $14,309 to purchase new equipment that will help the Lab save more sea turtles’ lives. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is operated by the Sea Turtle Conservancy and funded by proceeds from the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. www.helpingseaturtles.org. Full press release
  • Bradenton Christian School fundraiser: Bradenton Christian School’s sixth grade class raised $876 to benefit Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital through an April 21-22 fundraiser. The students presented Mote staff with a check on May 23. In honor of their donation, Bradenton Christian School students named one of Mote’s turtle hospital patients “Tucker B.” Full press release.
    • Update: Tucker B, a subadult loggerhead sea turtle, was successfully rehabilitated and released in September off Lido Beach in Sarasota County. Read a September press release about Tucker B’s recovery and release.

Mote announced two new Ph.D. scientists in May:
Dr. Noam Josef
Dr. Noam Josef is known for studying the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods: octopuses, squid, cuttlefish and related species. Josef, who moved this year from Eilat, Israel to Sarasota, Florida, is interested in designing algorithms to predict camouflage patterns in cephalopods. He is also interested in octopus / stone crab interactions — particularly how octopuses sneak into stone crab traps along Florida’s Gulf Coast and how to deter the octopuses from this crab fishery “buffet.”
His work will be carried out through the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC) and Mote, which have joined together as part of an exciting new IHMC-Mote Postdoctoral Research Fellowship collaboration.

May press release announcing Josef’s arrival
Updates: A new lab space has been prepared for studying octopus camouflage and stone crab interactions at Mote’s main campus in Sarasota. Research trials will likely begin in January or February 2017.

During 2016, Josef and his colleagues conducted other research projects that are expected to produce peer-reviewed papers in early 2017. Please stay tuned for announcements.

  • One study investigated how much visual information cuttlefish require to camouflage their color-changing skin. The researchers showed the cuttlefish smaller and smaller patches of reference patterns, challenging the cuttlefish to camouflage using less and less visual information. The 2017 paper will reveal how the cuttlefish performed — results that Josef and colleagues hope will help them develop algorithms of dynamic (moving, adaptive) camouflage as references for human industries that typically rely on static (nonmoving) camouflage, such as the defense industry.
  • Josef and colleagues have also been studying how to keep barnacles off underwater surfaces, such as ship hulls. They studied whether certain surfaces had optical (light related) properties that would attract barnacles and potentially draw them away from other surfaces.

Dr. Nicola Erdsack:
Dr. Nicola Erdsack has studied heat regulation strategies of pinnipeds (seals, sea lions and walruses) for the last eight years. While at Mote, Erdsack, who moved from Germany to Sarasota, Florida, is studying Florida manatee thermoregulation — their ability to maintain core body temperature independent of the surrounding temperature. Endangered Florida manatees often encounter low water temperatures during winter months. They migrate to warm water spots, including natural warm freshwater springs or warm-water discharges from power plants, when water temperature decreases below approximately 68 Fahrenheit.

Press release announcing Erdsack’s arrival

Update: Erdsack has been measuring skin surface temperature at various body parts from head to tail in manatees at southwest Florida facilities to gather control data to compare with any cold-stunned, wild manatees that she can sample during the upcoming winter months. So far, she has worked with Hugh and Buffett, the resident manatees at Mote Aquarium, and animal hospital patients at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.

Researchers team up to fine-tune red tide forecasts in Gulf of Mexico
In May, researchers from several institutions announced their three-year, $1.1 million NASA grant to fine-tune current red tide forecasts with the goal of offering public health managers, coastal residents and visitors better forecasts  on more localized scales.

Project partners from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System, Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Department of Health say that improved models and forecasts for red tide conditions will help people make healthy choices about where to spend recreation time, increasing protections for public health and coastal economies.

One key step under way is development of an app that will allow trained beach observers with special low-cost smart-phone microscopes to collect videos of water samples and upload them to a cloud-based server for automated evaluation. This system will provide a near real-time response on the presence or absence of Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide algae, along with information about whether the sampled quantities warrant a health concern.


Do sharks survive after the hook? Study shows how to find out
Fitbit-like sensors are the best tools for monitoring whether sharks survive catch-and-release fishing — essential data for fisheries management — reported a peer-reviewed study published by Mote scientists on June 23.

The study, published online in the scientific journal Fisheries Research, is the first to show that motion-sensing accelerometer tags detect whether a shark has survived and how it recovers from capture stress with much greater certainty than other prevailing technologies.

Coral restoration project launches in Key West
In June, Mote launched a coral restoration project at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park with partners from Florida State Parks and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, with funding support from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

  • June press release
  • Updates:The partners planted 5,500 fragments of brain, mountainous star and great star corals during summer 2016 in park waters.

In fall 2016, project partners installed a kiosk to educate park visitors about coral reefs, the threats they face and the ways scientists are working to restore them.

Mote hosts first World Oceans Day in Boca Grande   
On June 11, Mote held its first celebration of World Oceans Day in Boca Grande. This fun and educational family festival highlighted Earth’s oceans and the wondrous creatures living there, in the same spirit as the World Oceans Day Family Festival held each year at Mote Aquarium in Sarasota.

An estimated 100 visitors attended and had the opportunity to enjoy a touch pool, hear from Mote staff scientist Dr. James Locascio about acoustic-tagging studies of fish, and visit with participating organizations including the Boca Grande Sea Turtle Association and Lemon Bay High School’s Marine Science Program.

  • Mark your calendar for Mote’s 2017 events, including several in Boca Grande.

Testing two technologies to improve red tide monitoring
In June, Mote and the company Navocean tested two ocean-monitoring technologies together with the goal of improving monitoring for Florida red tide. Navocean’s solar-powered, self-navigating sailboat Vela was deployed in tandem with underwater robot Genie, which Mote normally deploys to monitor harmful algae in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • June press release
  • Update: The June mission tested whether Vela and Genie could carry similar instruments while Vela monitored shallower waters and Genie monitored deeper waters. The June mission revealed that Vela has promise for expanding the data collected on algae blooms, but more work is needed to allow it to autonomously work together with Genie. Mote and Navocean staff are seeking funding sources for future joint tests of these technologies.

Two spotted eagle rays tagged and released for Gulf of Mexico project
On June 21, Mote scientists released two spotted eagle rays off Longboat Key in Sarasota County, Florida, after fitting them with acoustic tags in an effort to learn more about their life history, reproduction and population status in the first-ever comprehensive spotted eagle ray conservation project in the Gulf of Mexico.
Since the project began in 2009, Mote scientists have learned that the Sarasota area hosts all size classes of spotted eagle rays from babies (pups) to adults, and some rays either stay in the area or return after periods of months to years. Some pups are born in late summer and early fall and the rays move or migrate to other locations in winter months when local waters are too cold.

Mote scientists have also noted a declining then stabilizing trend in numbers of rays observed in aerial and boat surveys, which indicates a need for continued monitoring.

  • June press release
  • Update: These two acoustic-tagged rays, female “Bre” and male “AJ,” were detected on Mote’s acoustic array in both New Pass and Big Pass in Sarasota throughout summer. Of this year’s 15 acoustic-tagged rays, a majority were detected multiple times at New Pass and/or Big Pass. This indicates that these large rays have a certain degree of residency in Sarasota Bay. All of them appear to have left since the Florida red tide bloom began in September. Several other species of smaller, less mobile sharks and rays succumbed to the red tide, which has caused fish kills this year along southwest Florida.

Scientists and teens restore corals in the Florida Keys
In July, teen members of SCUBAnauts International joined Mote scientists to plant 500 corals in a restoration area that Mote has developed within NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The teens also helped Mote scientists monitor the survival of corals planted in 2015 and 2014 through a joint restoration effort with Mote and the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, whose members were scheduled to help with this year’s planting effort but could not participate due to weather delays.

Turtle nesting breaks record midway through season
During July — midway through sea turtle nesting season — Mote scientists announced a record-breaking number of nests along Mote-monitored beaches from Longboat Key through Venice in Sarasota County.

Nesting season runs from May 1-Oct. 31 in southwest Florida. By the time this year’s nesting season concluded, the finalized count had reached 4,588 nests — breaking the 35-year record for Mote-monitored beaches.

Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program has coordinated conservation of sea turtles for 35 years on Longboat Key through Venice. Mote’s multi-decade monitoring efforts provide data that resource managers can use to understand and protect sea turtle populations. Long-term data are particularly important because sea turtles are long-lived species. It takes about 30 years for hatchlings born on Sarasota County beaches to return to nest as adults.

  • Update: Read a December press release for this year’s final nesting season recap.
  • Past years’ counts are available from Mote’s environmental updates page.
  • In September 2016, Mote reported that Tropical Storm (later Hurricane) Hermine had affected many local nests, but the majority of nests had hatched before the storm.

Third Sarasota Lionfish Derby
Divers removed 429 invasive lionfish from the Gulf of Mexico during the third annual Sarasota Lionfish Derby, which culminated on July 10 at Mote in Sarasota.
Mote teamed up with Reef Environmental Education Foundation and ZooKeeper to hold the event for a second year. Local chefs from Indigenous Restaurant, Mattison’s Restaurants & Catering, Seafood Shack and Beach House prepared tasty lionfish dishes that likely supported the excellent attendance — 300 visitors, up from 60 in 2015.

  • July press release
  • Stay tuned to Mote’s website (www.mote.org) and social media for announcements about the next Sarasota Lionfish Derby, expected in July 2017.

Mote and University of Guam forge partnership for ocean research
On Aug. 3, Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of Guam (UOG) Marine Laboratory forged a new partnership to benefit scientists, students and faculty while enhancing collaboration in marine research and science education.
Under the new memorandum of understanding, Mote and UOG will explore exciting opportunities to partner in teaching, introduce more undergraduate students to the cutting-edge coral reef science at Mote’s research facility on Summerland Key and share research and education facilities and infrastructure.

“Florida’s Coral Reefs” exhibit debuts at Mote Aquarium
The new exhibit “Florida’s Coral Reefs” debuted Saturday, Aug. 13, at Mote Aquarium in Sarasota.

The exhibit features 15 different species of Florida corals and many species of fish and other marine life, providing a snapshot of the dramatic beauty of Florida Keys reefs. Visitors can learn about the challenges facing wild reefs and the ways Mote scientists are working to help bring them back from the brink.

Supporters of Mote help college students study marine science

On Aug. 3, Mote Marine Laboratory — an independent research institution that hosts interns from around the world — celebrated the success of nine college students who were concluding a rigorous, marine research-based summer internship during the 2015-2016 school year, an opportunity provided by The Nature Conservancy and Mote.

The nine students were given the opportunity to study marine science at Mote thanks to the generosity of Keith and Linda Monda. Keith is a former trustee and longtime supporter of The Nature Conservancy, retired President and COO of Coach, Inc., and a passionate philanthropist.

High schoolers from U.S. Virgin Islands help Mote scientists study corals

High schoolers from the U.S. Virgin Islands helped conduct coral reef research from Aug. 12-18 in the Florida Keys, mentored by a Mote scientist who received a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to study the variability in resilience of corals affected by environmental change.

Six students from St. Croix and one from the Florida Keys collected coral-related data and explored Keys ecosystems with Mote Staff Scientist Dr. Erinn Muller, who received a five-year NSF grant in 2015 to study threatened staghorn coral. This grant is from NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, which offers prestigious awards to exemplary teacher-scholars through the integration of excellent education and outstanding research.

Mote surpasses $50-million campaign goal
In September, Mote announced that its first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign had surpassed its $50-million goal for advancing the Lab’s critical mission and vision.

Oceans of Opportunity: The Campaign for Mote Marine Laboratory debuted during Mote’s 60th anniversary celebration in January 2015 at the Lab’s home base in Sarasota, Florida, and achieved its goal for donor commitments during late summer 2016. It has succeeded thanks to generous community members from multimillion-dollar supporters to passionate school children who want to make a difference.
Campaign funds are helping Mote expand its efforts to study and address the grand challenges facing the marine environment locally and worldwide. Impacts of the campaign are already visible — for instance, the ongoing construction of Mote’s new coral research and restoration facility in the Florida Keys, the Lab’s enhanced support for the next generation of Mote postdoctoral scientists and its education programs for underserved children in southwest Florida. Mote leaders say that these exciting developments are just the beginning.

  • September press release
  • Update: During Mote’s annual Oceanic Evening gala, the Lab concluded its Oceans of Opportunity campaign, thanked its supporters and announced the final total of campaign commitments: nearly $52 million.

Initiative to restore one million corals launches in the Caribbean and Florida Keys
On Sept. 12, Mote Marine Laboratory and The Nature Conservancy launched a coral conservation initiative that will enable coral restoration at unprecedented scales throughout the Caribbean and the Florida Keys. The collaboration officially began with the signing of a one-year memorandum of understanding (MOU), enabling the first steps in a proposed 15-year initiative of joint coral reef restoration and conservation efforts.
The goals of the initiative are to restore more than one million corals across the region’s reefs, share science-based coral restoration and conservation practices among U.S. and international Caribbean partners, and construct necessary facilities such as coral gene banks, which preserve genetically diverse coral tissue and help researchers find strains resilient to environmental change. The Sept. 12 MOU officially launched one year of planning and preparation, which will include growing 50,000 coral fragments.

Mote welcomes new veterinarian
Mote welcomed veterinarian Dr. Adrienne Atkins to oversee the care of its diverse collection of resident animals. Atkins will also be involved in the care of sick and injured dolphins, small whales and sea turtles at Mote’s Dolphin & Whale Hospital and Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.

An experienced zoo and wildlife veterinarian born and raised in Florida, Atkins has worked with a range of species from fish to elephants, participated in conservation field projects locally and abroad and assisted with cetacean (dolphin and whale) strandings.

Seagrass protection goals clearer thanks to Charlotte Harbor study
Seagrass beds — vital habitat for Florida wildlife — may decline if poor water clarity obscures their sunlight. This year, resource managers in Charlotte Harbor are using new tools to keep water clarity on target, thanks to a study by Mote Marine Laboratory and Janicki Environmental, Inc.
The peer-reviewed study was funded by the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program (CHNEP) and published in the summer 2016 volume of Florida Scientist.
The study provides new mathematical modeling tools that are helping CHNEP and partners produce a concise and easy-to-understand Water Clarity Report Card for resource managers, scientists and members of the public who aim to safeguard Charlotte Harbor’s green jewel: more than 62,000 acres of seagrass habitat.

Dolphin and whale rescuers receive federal grant
In September, Mote announced that it had received $96,929 from NOAA’s John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program to enhance the Lab’s vital contributions to the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program responds 24/7 to reports of sick, injured and dead marine mammals and sea turtles in Sarasota and Manatee counties in Florida. Mote’s Dolphin & Whale Hospital and Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital provide excellent care to these protected species, always with the goal of returning them to the wild. Together, these programs have responded to more than 1,400 sea turtle strandings and more than 680 dolphin and whale strandings of 25 species. Since 2010, Mote has received an average of 495 calls per year and responded to and recovered a total of 620 stranded sea turtles, 67 dolphins or whales, and three mass-strandings of dolphins, while also assisting in the response to 195 manatees.

  • September press release
  • Update: This month, December 2016, Mote staff are selecting their new vehicle for live-animal transport. The Prescott Grant will allow them to purchase a vehicle equipped to hold two to three dolphins or small whales and to tow a large trailer to support responses to mass strandings.
  • Update: Since September, the Prescott Grant has helped Mote staff work with large animals outside Mote’s designated response area, Sarasota and Manatee counties.

This means Mote was able to help other partners in the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network with challenging jobs, such as responding to a 19-foot-long sperm whale that stranded during October on Little Gasparilla Island in Charlotte County and participating in a necropsy (animal autopsy) in St. Petersburg to learn more about two deceased beaked whales. In such cases, when an animal is too sick or injured to survive, a thorough necropsy provides critical information about the threats affecting that animal and its population.

Red tide bloom persists along Florida’s Gulf coast  
Significantly elevated concentrations of Florida red tide algae, Karenia brevis, were detected in water samples collected by Mote, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and other monitoring partners starting in September along parts of Florida’s Gulf coast. Some sampling efforts found slightly elevated concentrations as early as August. On Aug. 22-23, Mote’s survey offshore of southwest Florida found low but consistent levels of K. brevis at depth. Also, conditions were not optimal for diatoms, algae that may compete with K. brevis, which may have allowed K. brevis to proliferate. These data likely indicated the early stages of a bloom of Florida red tide.

  • Monitoring update:

As of Dec. 2, FWC’s statewide report continues to show that a Florida red tide bloom persists in southwest Florida from southern Pinellas to Lee County, with patches observed in Collier and northern Monroe counties.

  • Mote’s red tide research progress in 2016:

o   Mote’s Beach Conditions Reporting System provides real-time updates on Florida red tide impacts — respiratory irritation and dead fish — and other conditions at 31 Gulf-coast beaches. The report expanded its coverage in November 2016. By the end of 2016, Mote’s Environmental Health Program aims to release a citizen-science app that will allow any iPhone or Android user to contribute their beach observations, helping more people find the best beach on a given day.
o   Mote’s Ocean Technology Research Program is working on a new tool to detect red tide toxins, which can kill fish and cause respiratory irritation in people. This test, called high-performance liquid chromatography, is already used with red tide toxins in labs, and Mote scientists ultimately aim to equip it for deployment at sea – where it could enhance real-time, public information on the toxicity of blooms.
o   Eating shellfish contaminated with red tide toxins can cause neurotoxic shellfish poisoning. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services closes regulated shellfish-harvest areas affected by red tide. Shellfish from stores and restaurants are safe, but the public should not harvest shellfish recreationally during a red tide. Ongoing research by Mote’s Ecotoxicology Program suggests that whelks — shellfish some people harvest recreationally — may accumulate red tide toxins from their prey and retain them for months. In future work, Mote will focus on sunray venus clams, another Florida shellfish of emerging commercial interest.
o   Water samples from Mote and others contribute to weekly, statewide red tide reports from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In May 2016, researchers from multiple institutions announced their effort to fine-tune red tide forecasting, which will ultimately involve a special microscope setup and a new smartphone app to identify K. brevis in videos of water samples collected right on the beach.


Six great white sharks tagged off Nantucket
OCEARCH and collaborating scientists tagged and sampled six great white sharks off Nantucket, Massachusetts, during an expedition that wrapped up in October. Resulting data will help researchers better understand the North Atlantic white shark population. Two of the tagged sharks are males — the first satellite tagged in the region.

“The six large white sharks sampled and tagged during Expedition Nantucket provide a major leap forward in science in the Northwest Atlantic,” said lead scientist Dr. Robert Hueter, Director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory. “We more than doubled the sample size of large sharks sampled for the institutions taking part in OCEARCH-supported studies.”

As many as 15 researchers from 12 organizations received samples from the sharks to analyze results from muscle, blood, mucus, genetics, parasites and more, supporting a better understanding of white shark biology, physiology and health.

  • Track the tagged sharks’ movements via the online Global Shark Tracker or its App for Apple and Android. In the tracker, find the box marked “Tagged at” and select “Nantucket, MA.”

Mote receives NFWF grant to electronically monitor fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico
In October, Mote scientists announced their new grant of more than $500,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to continue advancing electronic monitoring of fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico.

In many fisheries, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration requires vessels to self-report data on their catch using logbooks. Though valuable for sustaining and managing fisheries, logbooks can’t always provide the detailed and consistent data ideal for fisheries management, and it is not financially affordable to have trained observers on all commercial fishing vessels in the Gulf. Electronic monitoring, such as using video cameras that film the fish caught, can help more fisheries provide such data.

  • October press release
  • Please stay tuned. After the current planning phase, the project could get under way as early as January 2017.

International team documents Saudi Arabia’s mysterious coral reefs

U.S. and Saudi Arabian scientists launched the most extensive baseline survey to-date of coral reef ecosystems along the Saudi coast of the Gulf of Aqaba during late September — investigating multiple reef species in detail to support conservation.

In October, expedition partners from Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida and King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, announced preliminary findings from the expedition. The expedition focused on coral abundance, diversity and stress, along with the abundance and diversity of butterflyfish, sea urchins, seagrasses and other species that may indicate the health of this critical environment. Preliminary results suggest that some life forms may be healthier or more diverse in southern Gulf of Aqaba waters further from denser human populations. More data and analyses are needed to verify the possible significance of trends, and the researchers aim for another expedition in summer 2017.

Mote launches new Protect Our Reefs website
In October, Mote debuted its new Protect Our Reefs specialty license plate website, an easy and user-friendly way for Florida drivers to purchase the plate.

Each plate sold provides a $25 donation to Mote and helps to fund coral reef research, restoration, education and conservation.

Mote shares findings from a deep, blue OAsis
Mote scientists Jim Culter and Dr. Emily hall shared the latest findings from their studies of blue holes — undersea caverns, springs or sinkholes — in the October issue of Mote Magazine. Hall and Culter are investigating whether blue holes, which naturally contain more acidic water than the open ocean, can serve as “natural laboratories” to study a human-caused environmental challenge, ocean acidification (OA).

Gulf fish and wildlife pathways revealed in new report
In November, The Nature Conservancy announced a new report on “blueways,” or migration highways, used by multiple species in the Gulf of Mexico.
The report assessed Gulf migratory areas for 26 species, including fish, sea turtles, birds and marine mammals that spend all or part of their time in the Gulf.
Scientists from multiple institutions contributed data and resources, including Mote Marine Laboratory researchers who have fitted whale sharks — Earth’s largest fish — with satellite-linked tags to track their migrations.

  • Read The Nature Conservancy’s report.
  • Read a 2013 research paper from Mote scientists and Mexican collaborators who tracked whale shark movements in and near the Gulf.

Mote hosts second forum on how scientist and community partnerships benefit the marine environment
On Nov. 3, Mote hosted a public forum on science and society in Sarasota, focusing on case studies of Mote’s volunteer citizen-science partnerships with their colleagues from Japan and featuring several efforts with recent successes and opportunities with citizen-science programs in Florida and beyond.
One exciting announcement from the forum: A new SCUBAnauts International chapter for youth divers ages 12-18 is being planned at Mote in Sarasota.

Mote adds Collier County to its Beach Conditions Reporting System, debuts new app
South Marco, Seagate, Vanderbilt and Barefoot beaches recently became the first Collier County sites to report beach conditions to the public through Mote Marine Laboratory’s Beach Conditions Reporting System (BCRS).

The BCRS (www.visitbeaches.org) provides twice-daily updates on conditions like wave height, wind direction, surf conditions, presence of seaweed or dead fish, rip currents, cautionary lifeguard flags and respiratory irritation due to the harmful algal bloom Florida red tide. Trained volunteers, such as lifeguards and park rangers, update the site using smartphones.

“Now, visitors and residents can get these updates on their phone with the new Beach Condition Reporting System app for smartphones available in the App Store,” said Dr. Tracy Fanara, manager of Mote’s Environmental Health Program.

Mote scientist awarded grant to study how iron influences harmful algal blooms
Dr. Jordon Beckler, manager of Mote’s Ocean Technology Research Program, is studying how iron may affect harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the Gulf of Mexico, thanks to a new Early-Career Research Fellowship awarded by the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

HABs are uncontrolled growth of naturally occurring algae in oceans or freshwater, including the toxin-producing algae Karenia brevis that causes near-annual Florida red tide. Florida red tide blooms normally begin in low-nutrient waters offshore, and sometimes they are carried to the coast. They can kill fish and other marine life and affect human health.

With the two-year, $76,000 fellowship grant, Beckler aims to study how iron may enter the marine environment and increase the growth of HABs, like K. brevis red tide, to help understand why blooms form and persist.

Snook released for fisheries study
On Nov. 29, Mote scientists released 320 hatchery-reared juvenile snook into Phillippi Creek in Sarasota County for an ongoing research project focused on finding the most effective methods to replenish and enhance wild snook populations.
For more than 25 years, scientists from Mote and the Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have partnered on research designed to evaluate whether stocking hatchery-reared snook can be an effective fishery management tool for rapidly replenishing snook stocks following the periodic mortality from changes such as red tides and cold weather.


New Keys facility enters last step of outer construction
Mote’s new coral research facility in the Florida Keys entered its last step of construction — and remains on schedule to open by spring 2017 — Mote leaders announced Dec. 12.

During December, contractors are lifting and assembling vehicle-sized pieces of precast concrete to complete the final sections of structural frame for Mote’s new International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration, located its Summerland Key campus. In the New Year, the interior will receive drywall and laboratory fixtures.

Mote’s remaining old lab building on Summerland Key was demolished recently. Mote scientists are working from temporary trailers on-site, and they eagerly anticipate the new International Center that will enhance their efforts to study and restore the ocean’s “rainforests,” coral reefs.

“The Teeth Beneath” exhibit to open in Feb. 25
In December, Mote announced that a new special exhibit — “The Teeth Beneath: The Wild World of Gators, Crocs and Caimans” — will open Feb. 25, 2017, at Mote Aquarium in Sarasota, Florida.

Visitors can see American alligators and invasive spectacled caimans found in Florida waters and wetlands, and learn how wetland and coastal habitats are vital to native species such as the elusive American crocodile.
Gators, crocs and caimans are crocodilians — a group of large, reptilian predators that are sometimes feared or misunderstood but play important roles in their ecosystems, reminiscent of the sharks studied by Mote Marine Laboratory scientists.

Sarasota Bay dolphin updates
The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, a program of the Chicago Zoological Society in collaboration with Mote, recently released their January 2017 annual report, “Nicks n Notches.” Here are updates on Sarasota Bay’s community of long-term resident bottlenose dolphins, which SDRP has studied since 1970:

  • Twelve calves were born in 2016, 11 of which remain alive and well. The second calf of female resident dolphin “F165” survived shark bites received when it was only days old.
  • Sarasota Bay’s oldest resident dolphin, “Nicklo,” appears well at age 66, but two of the oldest local resident dolphins have disappeared and are presumed to have died: female “Blacktip Doubledip” (age 62) and the oldest local resident male, “RT-3” (age 52). Sadly, two 2015 calves are missing and presumed dead.
  • Research by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and SDRP revealed good news: concentrations of persistent organic pollutants, such as PCBs, in the bodies of Sarasota Bay dolphins are declining at a rate of about 21 percent per year. These pollutants derive from pesticides, flame retardants and other human-made substances, and some have been phased out or restricted. Lower levels of persistent organic pollutants could improve the health of local dolphins and the survival of calves, which can be exposed to pollutants through their mothers’ milk.
  • SDRP staff continue documenting and working to decrease dolphin-human interactions such as fishing gear entanglements and hookings, harassment, boat strikes and illegal feeding, which contributes to dolphins’ risky unnatural behaviors such as begging and taking bait or catch from active fishing gear. As of 2016, more than 40 percent of resident Sarasota Bay dolphins have been observed engaging in concerning behaviors, and approximately 20 percent have suffered human-related injuries. SDRP staff, with support from the Disney Conservation Fund, are developing a solution-focused, community conservation program aimed at engaging local user groups whose