On February 21, 2019, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium hosted Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) at its City Island campus to discuss urgent threats facing Florida’s oceans, including harmful algae blooms affecting our coastlines and the significant decline of coral reefs. Mote President & CEO, Dr. Michael P. Crosby, and science staff from a diverse range of Mote research programs shared the latest in research and technology, while explaining the urgent need for support to continue and expand their efforts.

“Florida continues to experience growth in our tourism industry, with well over 100 million visitors each year, and many are coming to enjoy the beautiful and unique environment of Florida, including its coastal ecosystems and communities,” said Senator Rubio. “With the devastation caused by harmful algae blooms this past year along the Gulf Coast, and the coral disease that continues to spread through the Florida Reef Tract, the work that Mote Marine Laboratory is doing to address these issues have never been more important.”

In an op-ed originally published in the Miami Herald in Sept. 2018 and co-authored by Dr. Crosby and Senator Rubio, the devastation of the coral disease in the Keys, and the need for urgent, immediate action, was brought to light for readers. “Despite continued progress on water quality, however, it is likely that our devastated coral populations will be unable to execute a quick, natural recovery of the reef,” said the authors. “That means conservation strategies alone cannot solve this dilemma. A bold restoration program to actively assist the recovery of this ecosystem is essential, and we are closer than ever to amassing the scientific knowledge, technological tools and public investment and support needed to make reef restoration a reality.”

At the Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration in Summerland Key, Mote’s land-based coral nursery currently has over 32,000 coral fragments being raised for restoration efforts, and Mote staff have outplanted over 43,000 coral fragments to date onto the Florida Reef Tract.

“Senator Rubio’s visit to learn more about Mote’s research in fighting harmful algae blooms and coral disease could not have come at a better time,” said Crosby. “The red tide bloom that southwest Florida experienced this past year may be mostly gone, but our research is far from over. We are so pleased that Senator Rubio recognizes the importance of continuous funding for red tide research, even outside of years that may have a bloom of red tide.”

“We were impressed by Senator Rubio’s insightful questions, grasp of the scientific complexities of these issues, and recognition of the emergency state of the Florida Reef Tract,” continued Crosby. “Mote Marine Laboratory’s coral reef programs have identified disease-resistant genotypes, and are working to grow these corals for outplanting on the reef. While philanthropic support has brought our program much success, we cannot keep up with the rate at which our reef is disappearing without significant federal support. We greatly appreciate Senator Rubio leading the effort to secure a $5 million appropriation to support this effort.”