Phillippi Creek residents: Help Mote study fish in your backyard

Property owners along Phillippi Creek: You can help Mote Marine Laboratory scientists study your underwater “neighbors,” snook of the Sarasota Bay fishery.
Mote scientists are seeking waterfront access and logistical support as they study which habitat types juvenile snook prefer along Phillippi Creek. They will release hatchery-raised, common snook to document whether the fish prefer natural shoreline such as mangrove and marsh habitat, clear areas of human-made seawall, seawall with aquatic plants or a mosaic of all three types. Results will help reveal how well the creek supports native fishes and how resource managers might enhance its benefits.

This research is funded through Mote’s Fisheries Conservation and Enhancement Initiative, which has received tremendous support from philanthropists Carol and Barney Barnett, leadership donors to Mote’s Oceans of Opportunity  campaign.

  • Details on how to help with this study are below.

“We want to make tidal creeks more fish-friendly to support healthy populations of snook and preserve the economic and ecological benefits of fisheries in the Sarasota Bay region,” said Dr. Ryan Schloesser, postdoctoral scientist at Mote. “Tidal creeks provide habitat for juvenile and adult snook and other sport fishes. However, Sarasota County is above average in its proportion of hardened shorelines, which have the potential to negatively affect fish and invertebrates. The community has shown interest in making sure that local shorelines are wildlife-friendly, so we want to work with local residents to study how fish use these habitats.”
Phillippi Creek is an estuarine tidal creek system that drains approximately 60 square miles (145 square kilometers) within the Sarasota Bay Watershed. Along its 7-mile length are parks, businesses and residences offering diverse habitats for young snook.
With the permission and assistance of waterfront property owners, Mote scientists aim to investigate the following questions, starting in approximately the next month:

Do snook disperse more rapidly when released along seawall?
Does survival differ among release habitats?
When snook are in a given stretch of creek, what proportion of time do they spend along these habitat types?

Faster dispersal from a given habitat, less time spent there or lower survival rates could mean that the habitat has room for improvement.

How creek-side residents can help

Mote will monitor how released snook move through the environment by tagging the fish with passive integrated transponders, or PIT tags, similar to the microchips for cats and dogs. At select sites onshore, Mote researchers will place special antenna arrays that detect any tagged snook passing within range.
Mote is seeking waterfront access and assistance from residents in the following locations along Phillippi Creek. Residents along other parts of the creek are also welcome to contact Mote for consideration in future projects.

  • Upper creek sites, location 1: area around Mineola Drive, including Jaffa Drive, Valencia Drive and Orchid Oaks Drive.

  • Upper creek sites, location 2: area around River Ridge Drive, including Brink Avenue, Hyde Park Street and Tanglewood Drive.

  • Lower creek sites, location 1: area around Admiral Place and Way, Riverwood Avenue and the waterfront portions of Riverbluff Parkway, Ashton Road, Burlington Lane, Portland Street and Marblehead Drive.

  • Lower creek sites, location 2: Palos Verdes Drive, Wason Road, Michele Drive, Montclair Place and America Drive.

Mote scientists will ask interested homeowners for contact information and details about their shoreline habitat, and if appropriate, they will schedule a visit to discuss the project. 
What homeowners can expect if their backyard is selected:

  • Placement of an antenna/antenna array near the water. This requires several square feet of space onshore for the duration of the study. Duration of study is at least one year, but it can extend as long as homeowners are wiling to cooperate.
  • Temporary acclimation cage in the water to hold released fish for about three days. This allows the fish to get used to their new habitat.
  • Mote scientists will visit the site briefly, approximately every month, to download data and maintain antennas.
  • Mote scientists will need water or land access to the antenna.
  • Residents will be asked to:
    • Record any large disturbances (e.g. storms) on a datasheet provided by Mote.
    • Dissuade anyone from tampering with the equipment, and notify Mote researchers immediately if tampering occurs.

Interested homeowners should contact Dr. Ryan Schloesser at:

The South Gate Community Association has already stepped up to help by highlighting this opportunity through a special edition of its newsletter. "Our board was excited about the prospect of Mote research occurring in our neighborhood," said Virginia Miller, a member of the Association's board who has volunteered with Mote for more than 19 years. "We are pleased that the creek in our community is receiving this positive attention as an important place for research that aims to keep Sarasota Bay fisheries healthy."

Mote scientists plan to share their results with residents who help out, and ultimately with the broader community. In particular, they will communicate with organizations such as Sarasota County’s Stormwater Environmental Utility and the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, which carry out related and complementary efforts designed to improve conditions in Phillippi Creek and other local water bodies.
Said Schloesser: “We want the community to be interested and involved because the findings of this research apply to the community as a whole.”