Sept. 19: Post-Irma status of Mote Marine Laboratory in the Keys

Hurricane Irma moved directly over Mote Marine Laboratory’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration (IC2R3) on our Summerland Key campus on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. Our hearts go out to our staff and other Keys residents who experienced significant hardships and losses due to the storm. This important community and its recovery are in our thoughts each day.

As the southernmost marine laboratory in the continental U.S., Mote’s IC2R3 is a unique “collaboratorium” for coral reef research and restoration, providing vessel, dive, field and lab support for visiting scientists and educators. The 19,000-square-foot IC2R3 was made possible entirely through the philanthropic support of generous community members, and was constructed to Gold LEED standards and to withstand category 5 hurricanes.

Mote scientists were extremely fortunate and are grateful that IC2R3 was built to remain structurally intact and operational through such a dangerous storm. As the storm passed, our backup systems for electricity were fully functional and our coral gene-bank, and seed stock for restoring the coral reef tract, remained safe inside with running seawater systems, aeration and other critical life support. The entire building, including its dorms, eight labs, two classrooms and offices, is secure with minimal or no impact.

However, there was a significant storm surge on Summerland Key, which when combined with winds significantly impacted our exterior infrastructure, including outside coral raceway systems. Mote’s three resident research vessels appear to have weathered the storm well.

Mote staff at IC2R3 have already begun repairs of the external raceways. IC2R3 continued to maintain operations with running seawater with back-up generators until power returned to the campus on Sept. 18.  Second only to the safety of our staff, our highest priority is to maintain life support for our Florida Keys coral gene-bank and coral seed stock for our state-sponsored initiative to restore 25,000 corals in the next 12 months. The road to recovery for full “normal” research operations at IC2R3 will likely be on the order of months. However, the recovery of personal property and quality of life of our staff and neighbors in the Monroe County community will likely take years.

By the time Irma reached Mote’s City Island campus in Sarasota and our Mote Aquaculture Research Park inland east of I-75, the storm had significantly weakened.  However, many of our staff and other residents of the southwest Florida region experienced significant impacts to their homes, from which they are still recovering, and some areas remain without electricity.

Impacts to both of Mote’s Sarasota campuses were minimal, and we returned to operations of our research enterprise on Tuesday, Sept. 12, with our Mote Aquarium open to the public on Wednesday, Sept. 13.

Mote has insurance to cover hurricane damages to the exterior specialized infrastructure at IC2R3, but repair needs will most certainly exceed this coverage. 

How to assist with Mote’s recovery efforts:
Mote’s Employee Disaster Relief Fund
Anyone can make a tax-deductible donation to support grants for individual Mote staff who lost property or experienced financial hardship during Hurricane Irma. All staff at all Mote campuses may apply (see below).

Donate to support Mote staff: Select Employee Disaster Relief Fund

IC2R3 Hurricane Relief Fund  
Donate at to help keep IC2R3 in excellent working condition for Mote scientists and colleagues. Select IC2R3 Hurricane Irma Fund.

Thank you for your continued support.

Erin Kabinoff
Chief Development Officer or 941-388-4441 ext. 415

Shelby Isaacson
Public Relations Manager or 941-302-4997 

Hayley Rutger
Content Development Manager or 941-374-0081

IC2R3 received damage to exterior raceways and equipment. Photo credit: D. Vaughan/ Mote Marine Laboratory