On Tuesday, July 25, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium announced a milestone advancement in the construction of its new Science Education Aquarium as Mote staff and a wave of Mote SEA corporate sponsors witnessed a large piece of an acrylic window as it was installed into the new aquarium’s largest exhibit, the Gulf of Mexico habitat.

Anticipated for completion in December of 2024, Mote SEA will be a regional hub bridging the gap between complex marine research, accessible science and technology education for all, and environmental awareness to promote science-based change for a healthier ocean.

“We chose the name Mote Science Education Aquarium, because, above all else, this new facility, much like the current Mote Aquarium, will focus not just on establishing a connection and appreciation for the animals our guests will be able to observe in hopes of encouraging environmental stewardship, but at Mote, we know only through exposure, hands-on experiences, and education can people truly understand the impact of marine science. This is why Mote is embarking on this adventure of creating Mote SEA, a true Science Education Aquarium,” said Dr. Michael Crosby, Mote President and CEO. “Mote SEA will embody our vision of Oceans for All, doubling the number of Mote visitors whose lives are enriched by marine science each year and providing no-cost opportunities for schools to utilize specialized teaching labs to ensure that every child has the opportunity for hands-on marine science and technology experiences.”

The acrylic piece that was installed today, which measures 26’ L x 17’ H x 11” W, and weighs 27,900 pounds, will provide guests with an expansive view into the 400,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico habitat, which will feature various coral reef formations, sharks, rays, sea turtles, tarpon, snook, red drum, snapper, parrotfish, butterflyfish, and many other species. It will also open up into a new large multi-purpose room that will host a vast array of educational and community programs.

This highly-anticipated exhibit will also house a second large acrylic window, which measures 26’L x 11’ H x 9” H, and weighs 22,200 pounds. This second acrylic piece, scheduled for installation later this week, will provide another vantage point into the world of Mote’s world class research. As science is always the attraction at Mote Aquarium, guests will be able to look up through the large acrylic window, and learn about how Mote researchers are studying shark and ray biology, ecology and conservation.

In addition to the two acrylic panels that will allow guests to view underwater, the top of the Gulf of Mexico exhibit and viewing deck will be located on the second floor. From this space, guests can view the top side of the Gulf of Mexico exhibit and see shark fins break the water’s surface from above.

“The ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, or Mote’s backyard, will always be an important part of Mote’s focus, in addition to its other research sites around the world. Mote was founded by Dr. Eugenie Clark, often called the ‘Shark Lady’ for her revolutionary shark research, so it is a no brainer that Mote SEA’s Gulf of Mexico habitat offers our guests the ability to get up close to these animals and learn about the importance of shark research and conservation,” said Evan Barniskis, Associate Vice President of Mote Aquarium. “This habitat is going to be absolutely stunning and will span two floors, giving our guests a truly immersive experience.”

The Mote SEA experience will be like no other. Visitors will encounter three floors of animal habitats, and educational labs, onsite diving programs, scientific demonstrations, and interactive technology will enrich the visitor experience. Guests will learn about the world class research being conducted by Mote on a global scale to address the grand challenges the oceans face.

The rebirth of Mote Aquarium as Mote SEA will double the number of visitors to approximately 700,000 people per year and provide informal science education to a larger, more diverse audience, including free access to Mote SEA’s STEM teaching labs for approximately70,000 students from Sarasota and Manatee County schools. Mote SEA will feature amazing marine animals and scientific displays from oceans around the world with 1 million gallons total of animal habitats.

“We are grateful to all of our supporters who have made today’s milestone possible. Today, we took a giant dive forward toward realizing our goal of improving access to marine science education for diverse learners and providing a one-of-a-kind space for future ocean leaders to discover their passion for science, technology and conservation, all with Mote SEA,” said Michael Moore, Mote SEA Campaign Director.

Learn more about Mote SEA at moteoceansforall.org.

Construction update:

In July 2022, the Board of Sarasota County Commissioners unanimously approved the transfer of land for Mote SEA from the County to Mote, and construction permits were approved in August. Vertical construction began in September, when site workers began placing 346 auger, cast-in-place pilings 80 feet deep into the ground. This tremendous effort required a towering crane, 145 tons of steel rebar and 312 truckloads of concrete. Concrete has been poured for the second and third floors.

Today, drivers on I-75 and University Parkway can now see Mote SEA standing tall as its three floors are surrounded by scaffolding, the temporary structures on the outside of the building used to elevate and support workers and materials during construction. After the large acrylic pieces are installed this week, work on the third floor will continue.

Concrete has been poured for the second and third floors, and concrete for the first floor will be poured after the scaffolding that is currently in place to support the work on the second and third floor is removed.

There has been a substantial amount of plumbing underground below the Gulf of Mexico. Pipes and electrical work is being done on all levels because much of it is part of the concrete floor pours. Once the concrete work on the building and major exhibits are completed, the scaffolding will come down and interior work will begin, as well as the steel framework of the exterior skin.

Be part of the next wave: Make a direct donation to Mote by visiting www.mote.org/support and selecting “Donations.”

Fast Facts:

  • Mote has reached more than $100 million toward its $130 million goal
  • Mote SEA is anticipated to open in Winter 2024
  • Mote SEA will grow Mote’s public Aquarium space from 66,000 to 110,000 square feet. and from approximately 400,000 gallons of seawater exhibits to more than 1 million gallons.
  • Initial attendance will likely be near 700,000 in its opening year—double the current attendance of Mote Aquarium on City Island — and this facility will be built to accommodate 1 million visitors per year.
  • Mote SEA will provide approximately $28 million annually in economic benefits for the State of Florida.