On Dec. 5, 2023, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium came one step closer in realizing its vision of significantly improving access to marine science education and technology for all, as it held a topping off ceremony for its new Mote Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA).

The topping off ceremony is an age-old tradition in which the last structural beam is placed on a project, commemorating a major construction milestone. Mote Trustees, President’s Advisory Council, members of the construction team, and Mote staff members gathered around the steel beam, memorializing their contributions and support of the project by signing it with their names, marking it with endearing messages, and messages that convey the vision of Mote SEA, before it was lifted by a crane to be put into place.

“Today marks a major milestone for our entire Mote family and communities throughout the region to celebrate how close we are to witnessing the truly transformative nature of experiential science learning opportunities that over 100,000 school children and nearly a million visitors will experience every year within these walls,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, Mote President & CEO. Mote SEA will transform our ability to provide informal science education and enhanced levels of ocean literacy to much larger and more diverse populations locally and from around the world. The impacts of Mote SEA will be seen and heard far and wide.  Mote SEA is no ordinary building and is much more than just an aquarium. Mote SEA is an innovative, world class ocean science education center bridging the gap between paradigm changing research and science education access for everyone that will spark opportunities and change.”

Mote SEA will feature 110,000 sq ft and one million gallons of informal marine science education space including fascinating underwater exhibits and interactive teaching labs. From pre-K children to retired adults, from family-focused education programs to National Science Foundation-supported research internships and teacher professional development workshops, Mote SEA will tailor marine science education for myriad audiences at every stage of life.

Most importantly, Mote SEA will provide critical experiential science, technology, engineering and math education in its three K-12 STEM teaching labs to 70,000 students from Sarasota and Manatee County schools, and family day passes to 24,000 Title 1 schools each year, free of charge.

“Mote SEA will expand education access and participation of learners, including populations that are underserved in our community or underrepresented in marine science and technology. Whether Mote is encouraging girls to excel in scientific fields, involving at-risk youth in ocean technology product development, or engaging local communities in volunteer citizen science projects, Mote SEA will provide hands-on marine science and technology research experience opportunities that reach far and serve all,” said Aly Busse, Associate Vice President, Mote Education.

Interactive teaching labs will be accessible to all schools in the region, including no-cost opportunities, so that each child has the chance to discover marine science and technology, first-hand. Strategically collaborating with schools and community groups where needs are greatest, Mote will continue to educate students who might not otherwise have access to aquariums and marine science education.

Students will dive into marine STEM in three teaching labs on the first floor of Mote SEA:

  • The Ocean Technology Lab will feature a 3D printer, laser cutter, and other tools that will help students build and test their own autonomous underwater vehicles and tackle other marine engineering activities.
  • The Marine Ecology Lab will feature animal habitats, live animal ambassadors and large murals that will help students explore themes such as connected ecosystems and water quality.
  • The Biomedical/Immunology Lab will allow students to use tools such as digital microscopes and explore topics like finding new medicinal compounds from the ocean and using DNA to investigate conservation-related questions, such as the paternity of sea turtle hatchlings.

Mote SEA won’t just deepen students’ education—it will also help bridge gaps between education and careers through four Workforce Development Labs on the second and third floors: the Aquaculture Lab, Conservation Lab, Coral Lab and Veterinary Clinic & Diagnostic Center.

In these labs, interns and program participants including high schoolers, undergraduate and graduate students will gain technical skills, hands-on research experience, and career-building networking opportunities by working alongside Mote scientist mentors on their ongoing projects.

Heading into 2024, the construction team will begin to install the remaining large-scale acrylic panels for the balance of the main habitats throughout Mote SEA. In addition, a complex network of plumbing and life support systems, necessary to breathe life into the one million gallons of habitat throughout the facility, will begin to take shape.

It is anticipated that the certificate of occupancy (C.O.)—a formal approval from Sarasota County certifying that Mote SEA meets all required construction requirements and is safe for occupation—will be applied for in late summer 2024.  Once the C.O. is issued, Mote aquarium biologists can undertake Mote’s thorough transport and acclimation process for the wide array of animals that will ultimately call Mote SEA home.

Perhaps most exciting is the anticipated opening of the facility, which remains on schedule for early 2025, when Mote will realize its vision for offering a window of discovery into the globally-significant marine science research conducted by Mote scientists across every ocean in the world.

“We have been so fortunate to connect with so many supporters who truly believe in the mission and vision of Mote SEA and know the direct impact their giving will have on providing students the opportunities to explore marine science. We cannot achieve these critical goals alone. Opportunities still exist for donors and corporate sponsors to be part of this important new era for Mote, and for the next generation of marine researchers. The oceans serve us all. It is time to give back and fuel the science and public education required to achieve lasting impact for our shared marine resources. Please join us in making this vision a reality,” said Dr. Crosby.

For more information or to support Mote SEA, visit mote.org/oceansforall, or contact Michael Moore, Mote SEA Campaign Director.