To celebrate the limited-time exhibit “Sea Debris: Awareness through Art” at Mote Aquarium in 2017–2018, Mote’s team shared the following highlights from our efforts to address marine debris and advance other sustainability goals.

City Island campus in Sarasota Florida (including Mote Aquarium)

Informing marine debris reduction:

  • Kim Bassos-Hull, a senior biologist at Mote’s Sarasota campus, co-led the Wildlife Impacts working group to help create the Marine Debris Reduction Guidance Plan for the State of Florida. Gretchen Lovewell, manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, served as a contributor to the plan.
  • To gather and disseminate data marine debris and its impacts, scientists with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP, a Chicago Zoological Society program in collaboration with Mote) and Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program publish peer-reviewed research papers on dolphin-human interactions, including marine debris issues (list available at SDRP maintains a data-collection list in the Marine Debris Tracker smartphone app, where anyone can log debris data.  Identifying debris characteristics and hotspots can help to focus clean-up efforts.
  • Hatchling turtles and plastic: Mote Senior Aquarium Biologist Holly West and colleagues examined 142 hatchling (baby) sea turtles that swam out to sea, but washed back ashore and did not survive, during 2015 in southwest Florida. Of these, 72 percent had ingested synthetic marine debris, such as plastic.

Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital and Dolphin & Whale Hospital rescue and recover marine mammals and sea turtles facing a variety of challenges, including marine debris. If a dolphin becomes entangled in marine debris, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program leads joint disentanglement efforts, with approval from NOAA.

Mote’s Education Department periodically hosts coastal cleanup events with interns and community members to help keep marine debris out of our oceans. Mote’s education programs promote environmental stewardship, including marine debris reduction, to tens of thousands of people each year. In 2016, 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.

Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program staff and volunteers frequently pick up trash during their daily morning beach patrols along 35 miles of coastline to monitor sea turtle nests from Longboat Key through Venice, and they educate residents and visitors about keeping beaches turtle-friendly — which includes removing debris.

At the Sarasota campus of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, new water bottle refill stations encourage the use of refillable water bottles. This upgrade is projected to save over 100,000 personal-sized plastic disposable bottles in 2017.

In 2016, Mote Aquarium gift shops eliminated single-use plastic bottles.

In 2015, Mote Aquarium gift shops eliminated the use of plastic bags.

Cleaner energy: In 2012, Mote mounted new solar energy systems on two of our buildings, thanks to generous donations by Willis A. Smith Construction, Inc. and Jim Lampl, local supporter. Each could offset as much as 82,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year — equal to saving more than 4,600 gallons of gas — according to the installer, which used a carbon calculator from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Energy efficient heating and cooling: The sun heats more than half the hot water used by Mote personnel and guests in the Aquarium, its Deep Sea Diner and the Ann and Alfred Goldstein Building connecting the Lab and Aquarium. We also use solar-heated water in showers and sinks used by staff and volunteers in our animal hospitals. Using programmable thermostats, energy-efficient light bulbs and other methods, we have reduced our energy bills by 7 percent. About one-third of our electrical use is needed for critical life-support systems for our animals. We recover energy from discharge water and use that energy in heat pumps to cool or warm incoming seawater for our animals.

Electric vehicles: Mote’s main campus on City Island, Sarasota, has a two-vehicle station in the ChargePoint network and a Tesla high-capacity charger for electric vehicles at its main Lab and Aquarium building, along with three charger outlets at its Ann and Alfred E. Goldstein Marine Mammal Research and Rehabilitation Center.

During National Drive Electric Week, Mote and local partners host Electrify the Island, an electric vehicle and sustainability event on City Island, Sarasota.

The majority of Mote Aquarium exhibits use energy-efficient LED lighting. For example, at our large shark exhibit, we replaced the six metal halide lights (6,000 watts total) with six LED lights (600 watts total). That reduction could save enough energy to power 15 average Florida homes for a year, according to Mote staff who used a government-provided energy-savings calculator.

Mote participates in e-cycling, providing old/scrap electronics such as computers, printers, televisions, network equipment and wires to a company with expertise in recycling and re-using these materials.

Mote Aquaculture Research Park, eastern Sarasota County

Eco-friendly fish farming research: Mote Aquaculture Research Park (MAP) is an environmentally responsible fish farm and research facility that develops recirculating aquaculture systems to minimize our environmental footprint. Our marine aquaculture and marine aquaponics systems recycle 100 percent of their salt water and do not discharge water into the marine environment. We use the nutrients from fish waste to grow marine and wetlands plants that are later used to restore natural habitats.

MAP includes a 30.2 kilowatt solar power array.

Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration, Summerland Key, Florida (IC2R3)

Built for sustainability: Mote’s IC2R3 features an eco-friendly design with 30.1 kilowatt solar panels, a rainwater capture system and high-efficiency heating and cooling.

Mote’s IC2R3 was designated as the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certified commercial facility in Monroe County, Florida. Read more here.