Winter 2019-2020 Mote Magazine

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NEW YEAR, NEW BABY CORALS Closing the reef restoration loop




Gulf grouper & snapper monitoring grows

Sustainable options in Mote's gift shop

Manatee science in its natural habitat

THE OCEANS ARE CALLING OUT Help us restore threatened coral reefs; ensure the survival of vulnerable marine to help feed the world; pioneer new methods to fight red tide, and more. Please answer the call and donate today.

Learn more and give to Mote at M O T E . O R G / D O N AT E

S U N D AY, J A N U A R Y 1 9 , 2 0 2 0 | 1 2 : 3 0 P M M O T E A Q U A C U LT U R E R E S E A R C H PA R K

Join us for Mote’s inaugural Farm to Fillet, featuring a unique culinary experience by Chef Paul Mattison in a beautiful natural setting at Mote Aquaculture Research Park. Enjoy a delicious luncheon and glimpse the work Mote scientists are doing, developing sustainable aquaculture systems designed to help feed the world and restock depleted ďŹ sh species.

Proceeds benefit Mote Marine Laborator y For individual tickets and sponsorship information, visit M O T E . O R G / FA R M T O F I L L E T or contact Kate Knepper at (941) 388-4441 x 393


animals; advance sustainable aquaculture





WINTER 2019 INFO: 941-388-4441









Mote Magazine (ISSN 1553-1104) is published by Mote Marine Laboratory, a world-class nonprofit organization devoted to the ocean and its future. Through marine science stories, Mote hopes to enhance ocean literacy among the public and encourage conservation and sustainable use of marine resources.

PRESIDENT & CEO Michael P. Crosby, Ph.D.


EDITOR Hayley Rutger

In deep-ocean "ecological hotspots," Mote divers and partners have suprise sightings of endangered species, document weird microbes, and lead biogeochemistry research to better understand the Gulf of Mexico.


Alexis Crabtree, Hayley Rutger



Lauren Hughey, Stephannie Kettle, Hayley Rutger CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS

Allison Baird, Ozlem Berg/Way Down Video, Curt Bowen, Cody Engelsma, AJ Gonzalez, Conor Goulding, Dr. Phil Gravinese, Stephannie Kettle, Hanna Koch, Mote's Manatee Research Program, Mark Sickles Photography, Sandy North-Potere/Adobe Stock, Valerijs Novickis/Adobe Stock, nsc_photography/Adobe Stock, Olivia Raney, Cliff Roles, Hayley Rutger, Henri Swanson, val_iva/Abobe Stock

Mote Magazine is proud to recognize Sarasota Magazine as its publishing partner. For information on sponsorship, please contact Sarasota Magazine at 941-487-1100.

On the cover Raising diverse corals for reef restoration through managed breeding.

05 ISSUES & IMPACTS Open-water, longline fisheries overlap with shark hotspots. 07 FISHERIES MONITORING Filling data gaps to inform stock assessments in the Gulf 10 CORAL HEALTH 101 Illustration of threats to corals and Mote's work to stop them 12 SNAPSHOT: MANATEE RESEARCH A bird's-eye view of Mote's Manatee Research Program 14

24 OCEANIC EVENING Corals are the life of the party. 26 MOTE MILESTONES Diversifying STEM education; sea turtle nesting records; new funding for vital research; and more 30 MOTE LEGACY MEMBER SPOTLIGHT Meet Ann Walborn. 30 SPECIAL EVENTS A sneak peek at Mote's upcoming 2020 events

SHOP GREEN Sustainable purchase options in Mote's gift shop C OV E R STO RY


CORAL MATCHMAKING Sexual reproduction of corals at Mote's Florida Keys facility

Story: Page 21 Photo by: Hanna Koch



Board of Trustees CHAIRMAN

Dr. Howard (Sam) Seider VICE-CHAIRMAN

Maurice (Mo) Cunniffe TREASURER

Letter from the President STAYING AHEAD OF OCEAN CHANGE In the 1960’s, Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel, first predicted a phenomenon that later became known as “Moore’s Law.” The concept states that the rapid rate of change in the semiconductor industry would allow computer processing power to double every two years. That may have seemed staggering at the time, but since then, computing capabilities have advanced and changed our lives in ways that few could have imagined. To comprehend such rapid change requires unique vision and insight, whether we regard the amazing growth of technology or the troubling changes in our natural world.

Scott Collins SECRETARY

It could be said that the oceans are experiencing a problematic version of Moore’s Law: a rate of change that shifts their dynamics drastically over relatively short periods of time.

Sandra Stuart PRESIDENT & CEO

Dr. Michael P. Crosby Arthur L. Armitage, Chairman Emeritus Eugene Beckstein, Chairman Emeritus Philip (Mickey) Callanen Robert E. Carter, Chairman Emeritus Ronald D. Ciaravella Frederick M. Derr, P.E., Chairman Emeritus Richard O. Donegan Trustee at Large Rogan Donelly Dean H. Eisner James D. Ericson Robert Essner, Past Chairman Susan C. Gilmore Judy Graham, Chairman Emeritus Penelope Kingman

At Mote Marine Laboratory, our visionary scientists are working to keep up with and get ahead of that change. This issue of Mote Magazine highlights how our Mote scientists and our close partners are helping to establish the leading edge of solutions to today’s oceanic challenges. This past spring, at Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration (IC2R3), a team led by Dr. Hanna Koch established a pivotal step in Mote’s comprehensive process of resilient coral reef restoration: a successful, managed sexual reproduction effort using our genetically documented, nursery-raised corals. With this success, Mote science can carry out reef restoration from the “birth” of coral larvae with diverse genetics to growing and outplanting diverse and resilient coral colonies. This fall we received confirmation that Mote research helped support the designation of a portion of Florida’s Gulf Coast as a “Hope Spot.” Hope Spots, a global network of areas critical to the health of the oceans, are designated by Mission Blue, a nonprofit led by National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence and member of the Mote family Dr. Sylvia Earle. The Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot is home to a critical mass of blue holes, underwater caves, springs and sinkholes whose scientific investigation has been pioneered by Mote. These areas have unique chemical and biological features that may provide valuable insight into current and future ocean conditions. Just as in the semiconductor industry, the rate of change being experienced by today’s oceans cannot continue forever. Ultimately, it will slow near its termination point. It is our mission and the goal of Mote science to ensure that we have pioneered innovative solutions and technology to reverse the decline of our oceans before the termination of species and habitats. We are excited to have you join us in this mission. Sincerely,

Trudo Letschert Kirk Malcolm Elizabeth Moore G. Lowe Morrison, Chairman Emeritus Alan Rose Charles R. Smith Jeanie Stevenson Hobart (Skip) Swan


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Michael P. Crosby, Ph.D., FLS President & CEO



A new study in the prestigious, peer-reviewed, scientific journal Nature reveals that major high-seas fishing activities overlap significantly with important shark hotspots worldwide. KEEP READING





articipating researchers mapped shark positions and revealed hotspot areas of use in unprecedented detail. Then they calculated how much the hotspots were overlapped by global fleets of large, longline fishing vessels—a primary group that catches open-water sharks as unwanted “bycatch” while targeting other fishes.

The study calls attention to the danger of accelerating shark population declines and disappearance of their hotspots, along with opportunities for more sustainable management of fisheries and shark populations internationally. Today, as many as one-quarter of sharks and their relatives, rays and skates—together called “elasmobranchs”— are threatened with extinction.

The study found that, on a monthly average, 24% of the space used by sharks globally falls under the footprint of pelagic (open water) longline fisheries. North Atlantic blue sharks and shortfin mako— the fastest shark in the sea—have on average 76% and 62% of their space use, respectively, occupied by longline fishing vessels each month, and even internationally protected species such as great white and porbeagle sharks have overlaps exceeding 50%.

The study included 150 scientists from 26 countries who combined their knowledge and data from nearly 2,000 satellite-tagged sharks. Co-authors from Mote Marine Laboratory’s Center for Shark Research have tracked white, bull, hammerhead, whale and multiple other shark species with satellite tags over decades of conservation-focused science, some in collaboration with research partner OCEARCH. 

A Mote scientist's take on this important study  Dr. Robert Hueter, Director of Mote’s Center for Shark Research, served as a study co-author along with Mote Senior Biologists Jack Morris and John Tyminski.

"Sharks are an important part of ocean life and are found in many of the same areas as the target species of open-water, longline fisheries—species like tunas and billfishes. It’s alarming to see how extensively shark movements overlap with these fisheries. Outside U.S. waters, such fisheries often lack a responsi-


ble management approach to address shark bycatch and resulting mortalities. In addition, shark finning—the wasteful and inhumane practice of cutting off a shark’s

150 SCIENTISTS from 26 COUNTRIES combining knowledge and data from nearly



fins and discarding the carcass at sea—can take its toll in the open sea in the absence of conservation measures and enforcement of regulations. Shark finning has been prohibited in U.S. waters since 2000. This paper underscores the need for improved regulation and enforcement in international, open-water, longline fisheries. In the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, these fishermen must fill out logbooks and carry observers, plus carry electronic monitoring systems on their vessels to record video of their catch and bycatch. They are prohibited from finning sharks and must be


licensed to harvest whole sharks of specific species. It’s understandable that fishermen have to follow their target species, and at the same time, overlap with

Mote scientists have studied sharks since the Lab was founded in 1955, and today Mote operates the only Center for Shark Research designated by U.S. Congress.

shark distribution. Nonetheless, there are sustainable policy options that resource managers can use to balance the needs of humans and the marine environment, including sharks. This study also shows the power of many scientists collaborating and sharing data openly. We at Mote’s Center for Shark Research were happy to provide our shark tracking data that contributed to this globally important study."


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Fishery monitoring effort is a keeper BY HAYLEY RUTGER

More than six years ago, Mote Marine Laboratory and partners asked commercial snappergrouper fishers to help test electronic monitoring (EM) systems on their vessels in the Gulf of Mexico, with the goal of better tracking of caught and discarded fish to support fisheries management. By early 2019, Mote had more fishers willing to help than they could equip with EM gear, a wealth of incoming data and an ever-improving process for synthesizing the stories it was telling. It was time to begin harnessing this new wave of information for data-hungry management processes that sustain Gulf fisheries.

Below: Mote Staff Biologist Max Lee reviews EM video and data.



o do that, Mote launched its Center for Fisheries Electronic Monitoring at Mote (CFEMM)—the Gulf of Mexico’s first and only EM center—in early 2019. CFEMM is expanding efforts to gather EM data on the Gulf’s snapper-grouper fishery and process it into forms directly applicable by fisheries managers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council.

The Gulf’s snapper-grouper fishery manages more than 800 permitted commercial vessels targeting 42 reef fish species using annual catch limits, including species of current concern. For example, landings of high-demand red grouper “have been significantly below the annual catch limits, indicating that the stock may not be large enough to sustain current harvest levels,” noted the Gulf Council’s April 4 news release. Red grouper quotas (how many a permitted fisher can harvest in a certain time period) have been reduced this year, and a federal stock assessment is under way. Stock assessments require extensive data, but only about 2% of the Gulf’s snapper-grouper vessels are monitored by NOAA’s on-board fisheries observers. Data from captains’ logbooks and independent studies are also extremely important, but limited in consistency and coverage. Unsurprisingly, many stock assessments are data-deficient. “EM has significant potential to fill data gaps with the goal of making informed stock assessment decisions in the Gulf, and now CFEMM is bringing that vision much closer to reality,” said Mote Staff Scientist and CFEMM leader Carole Neidig.

EM—required in some U.S. fisheries, but still being investigated for the Gulf—involves deploying video cameras and sensors on fishing vessels, and allowing scientists to analyze the results confidentially in the lab. Mote’s CFEMM deploys EM gear on commercial bottom longline and vertical line vessels of the snapper-grouper fishery, collecting video and data on hard drives and later analyzing it to document fish species caught (including non-targeted “bycatch” species), numbers kept and discarded, fish condition on arrival and discard, and details on when a vessel sets or hauls fishing gear or travels between fishing grounds and port. Using its growing database of EM records and exciting technological upgrades, CFEMM is now intensifying its focus on a key management challenge for the Gulf snapper-grouper fishery: shark bycatch—when sharks are caught unintentionally, causing problems for both the fishing industry and shark conservation.  KEEP READING




Fisheries data powerhouse EMerges in the Gulf Check out how the Center for Fisheries Electronic Monitoring at Mote (CFEMM) has grown with the goal of filling data gaps on the snapper-grouper fishery and its bycatch.

Fishers carry EM science farther Bottom longline and vertical line fishers originally carried Mote’s EM gear to the West Florida Continental Shelf, and in the past two years, they’ve expanded CFEMM’s reach into to the northern and western Gulf of Mexico.


Seven Florida vessels and six Texas vessels of the commercial snapper-grouper fishery carried EM gear for CFEMM this year, nearly doubling 2018 participation. “Captains here in Texas were so happy to participate that there weren’t enough cameras for everyone at the time,” said Capt. Buddy Guindon, Founding Member & Executive Director of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, who helped connect Mote with the Texas fishers.

Tools that rule NOAA Fisheries observers measure fish length aboard commercial vessels at sea—an indicator of fish maturity and determinant of legal size. To expand upon those data, Mote’s CFEMM is testing a digital “ruler” from Saltwater, Inc., with the goal of documenting fish length from videos.

Shark bycatch concerns grow Based on CFEMM data from bottom longline vessels, incidental shark bycatch increased from about 4% in 2017 to 6.2% of the total catch by early 2019, a concern for both industry and shark conservation. Some shark species are prohibited from harvest to protect vulnerable populations; others can be caught with appropriate permits but can damage catch and bottom longline gear. Apparent increases in incidental shark encounters "are frustrating for fishers working to make a living,” said Max Lee, a NOAA Fisheries Observer who recently joined Mote’s CFEMM as staff biologist and advanced its protocols for accurately identifying sharks in EM videos.


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CFEMM: A data goldmine After a fishing trip, Mote’s EM team confidentially reviews the collected video, identifying fish species caught and discarded with 99% accuracy and using software from Saltwater, Inc., to consistently document when fish are alive or dead, intact or damaged—for instance, by sharks or marine mammals. New quality control processes coded by Mote scientist Dr. Ryan Schloesser help catch errors automatically. CFEMM has amassed 70,000 records of caught and discarded species—just from sampling 25% of their recorded fishing events! CFEMM partner Daniel Roberts of Waterinterface, LLC, is working to statistically model how fishing practices and environmental conditions influence species of interest. For example, if CFEMM can provide data on the most cost-effective fishing locations, and areas to avoid high shark bycatch, industry will benefit.

From data to decisions Mote’s CFEMM scientists are working with NOAA research partners on specific opportunities for EM to address management goals, particularly for datalimited species. Mote is providing CFEMM collected data and investigating methods for applying new EM technologies—i.e., to automate fish measurements and facial recognition of species as they come aboard. EM could help address other management questions as well. For example, reviewing EM imagery of which species are discarded and caught together is useful for quantifying predation—i.e., if fishers are losing catch because it is being preyed upon by sharks or porpoises.

UCAM aims to deepen bycatch data Current, above-water EM cameras can’t see all shark bycatch. “For sharks too large to bring aboard to remove the hook, the line is cut as the shark nears the side of the vessel,” Lee said. “At times we just see the flash of a fin or a shadow underwater"—not enough to identify species. To identify sharks more accurately, Mote citizen-scientist volunteers headed by Joe Gill, and industry partners, are testing an underwater camera system, nicknamed UCAM. The

team ran six tests of a prototype UCAM on private and commercial charter-for-hire vessels—investigating how to mount UCAM unobtrusively, camera angle, field of view, depth of field and how water clarity affects video. By October, they were ready to test a new mounting system designed by Brad Kapper and Chuck Casagrande of SeaSucker, LLC, to attach UCAM to a commercial fishing vessel with a “dummy” camera for its maiden voyage. UCAM represents a big step forward: a novel integration of an underwater camera with EM software to improve fisheries bycatch documentation.




Back to basics: Coral Health 101 BY STEPHANNIE KETTLE

Bleaching, disease, pollution, acidification—the list goes on. Coral reefs around the world are under siege, suffering from global threats, like warming water temperatures, and localized threats, such as disease outbreaks that can devastate a region. Check out the illustrations below to better understand some of the biggest threats to corals on the Florida Reef Tract, and how each stressor can affect corals differently.

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Corals affected by SCTLD include species of brain, boulder and massive corals— all “reef-building” species, important to the base of the entire reef ecosystem. SCTLD causes coral tissue to slough off, killing some coral colonies in as little as a few weeks. When SCTLD is working its way through a coral colony, there is often a very clear distinction between living and dead tissue.

Corals have a bacterial community living in and around them—the coral’s microbiome. Just as in other animals, many bacteria are beneficial to the health of the coral, while some can be killers—a balance of probiotics versus pathogens. Mote scientists study the coral microbiome in-depth to better understand the bacteria present in stress-resistant corals, and compare with more susceptible corals.


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A devastating disease, called Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD), is currently affecting over 20 species of stony corals in the Florida Reef Tract. Mote scientists and their partners believe it to be a water-borne, bacterial pathogen that is causing the disease to spread.



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Not a rock, not a plant – corals are animals! Corals secrete a calcium carbonate skeleton. Corals actually get their color and their energy from symbiotic algae, called zooxanthellae, living in their tissue systems. Symbiotic relationships are mutually beneficial – the zooxanthellae provide nutrients to the coral through photosynthesis, and the coral provides protection to the algae. Despite their rocky vibe, corals can be very sensitive to environmental changes. Most notably, corals “bleach” when stressed, as the zooxanthellae will actually be expelled from the coral, leaving the animal translucent with white skeleton underneath. The main cause of bleaching events – when an entire reef system bleaches – is rising ocean temperatures. Other factors, such as ocean acidification and poor water quality, can compromise a coral’s immune system, making them more susceptible to stressors. Local impacts on a coral environment can change the way a reef responds to global threats.

LEARN MORE & ACT Learn more about how Mote scientists are giving our reefs a fighting chance, through advanced research and restoration at: MOTE.ORG/RESEARCH Recreational fishers, divers, boaters and others are encouraged to help Mote and partners spot unusual environmental events in the waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary through the C-OCEAN program. Learn more at: MOTE.ORG/COCEAN ILLUSTRATIONS BY: HAYLEY RUTGER




Meet the mana-team BY HAYLEY RUTGER


s fall turns to winter, many Florida residents and visitors will stop by freshwater springs and power-plant outflows to observe the state marine mammal—Florida manatees—taking refuge from the cold. It’s easy to be charmed by these slow, seemingly placid herbivores. It’s hard to square that impression of calm with the truth that these threatened mammals continue to endure a battle for survival: Boat strikes, the loss of warm-water refuges, and ecological issues such as red tide challenge the recovering but fragile population growth of Florida manatees. Addressing those challenges requires extensive scientific data on manatee survival, behavior, habitat, physiology and more. For decades, Mote Marine Laboratory’s Manatee Research Program (MRP) has provided a wellspring of data on wild manatees, directly informing conservation and management. Here is a snapshot of their tireless efforts. 

AERIAL SURVEYS Mote’s MRP biologists ride in small airplanes to observe manatees from above. Their 35-plus years of aerial survey data help identify changes in manatee distribution and abundance in response to stressors, such as declining habitat and warm water refuges, red tides, hurricanes and more. Aerial surveyors must have a keen eye to spot manatees in varying water/weather conditions, along with a strong stomach for long flights and tight turns!

THERMAL CAMERA Wild manatees poke their nostrils out of the water to breathe—allowing for a different kind of scientific “photo.” MRP scientists use a thermal camera to document the skin temperature in wild manatees’ nostrils, a potential indicator for body temperature of these cold-sensitive animals.

HABITAT STUDIES Habitat studies focus on areas manatees appear to favor. Mote scientists measure water temperature and salinity at different depths, bathymetry (depth measurements) and sometimes other environmental data. SEAGRASS

PHOTO-ID Mote’s MRP biologists take photos to identify individual manatees by their markings, including scars and mutilations from boat strikes. Structured photo-ID efforts began in 1993, but Mote has identified some manatees even earlier—certain individuals photographed as far back as 1989 are still observed today!

Seagrass provides food for manatees and it matters for many marine animals. Mote’s MRP encourages boaters to protect seagrass by staying out of shallow areas, using channels and following speed markers. Id


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Manatee Health In Crystal River, Florida, one site where manatees take refuge from the winter cold, a team led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) captures wild manatees for health assessments. There, Mote scientists collect blood samples for studies in their Sarasota labs. Mote’s MRP and Marine Immunology Program are investigating how Florida red tide (a harmful algal bloom in the ocean) affects manatee immune systems. Blood from Crystal River manatees that test negative for red tide toxins will be compared with blood from manatees being treated for red tide exposure. The study’s long-term goal is to inform and improve rehabilitative care.

Health assessments also allow Mote’s MRP to collect temperature data using a thermocouple (temperature sensor) on the manatee’s skin, and monitoring the temperature inside its nostrils with a thermal camera. Mote scientists are developing and optimizing techniques to measure body temperature without causing the manatee discomfort. Deviation from normal temperature or temperature changes over time may indicate health issues, such as cold or heat stress.

Aerial surveys Photo-identification Habitat monitoring Thermal imaging Health assessment and/or genetic sampling

MATING HERDS Manatee mating herds—several males surrounding a female in estrus—can occur right along shore. Mote biologists document the herds while educating passersby about this fascinating natural behavior and how to observe it safely. It is best to watch from a distance and not approach the groups, as these are 1,000-plus-pound mammals in motion!

Areas of work

DATA MAKE A DIFFERENCE Mote collaborates with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to develop and maintain the statewide Manatee Individual Photo-identification System database, which has over 4,800 individual manatees identified through nearly 113,000 sighting records! One of the many uses of the database is to estimate adult survival rates and model population dynamics for state and federal status assessments of Florida manatees. Mote’s aerial survey data support manatee conservation at local, state and federal levels. Mote participates in annual, statewide surveys coordinated by FWC, provides targeted surveys where manatees gather in power plants’ warm water outflows, and conducts county-wide surveys that inform the counties’ Manatee Protection Plans. By sharing its research through peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals, and presentations at conferences and symposia, Mote’s MRP ensures that their discoveries inform science, conservation and manatee care.




SHOP GREEN BY STEPHANNIE KETTLE According to a marine debris report prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme, the global production of plastics in 2014 was 311 million metric tons (tonnes). The report also mentioned that in 2010 alone, an estimated 4.8-12.7 million metric tons of plastic found their way into our oceans. Plastic and other marine debris can negatively impact the oceans in a variety of ways, most noticeably by killing sea life.

to help

BIG BLUE SHOP TODAY Mote’s gift shop is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 365 DAYS PER YEAR and online at: SHOP.MOTE.ORG

How can we stem the tide of plastics and other debris in the world’s oceans? While the problem at hand can seem like too much for one person to address, individual choices we make every day can combine to create a wave of change. The gift shop at Mote Aquarium can help! From upcycled T-shirts to reusable straws to pencils that turn into plants, there is something for every plastic-conscious person. TURTLEY AWESOME TUMBLERS Local company Tervis recently launched a new line of limited-edition tumblers made from recycled plastic. The tumblers help the environment in three ways: removing plastic waste, serving as reusable hot-or-cold drinkware, and supporting marine research. Tervis is donating a portion of proceeds from this line of recycled products to support Mote’s cutting edge research! Purchase at Mote’s gift shop or on


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TAKE A BITE OUT OF LIONFISH Looking for sustainable seafood? Locally harvested lionfish is a tasty option that helps to remove a destructive invasive species. Whip up fresh recipes with this cookbook.



EATING GREEN FOR LUNCH Just one packed lunch can result in a lot of discarded plastic wrap, bags and bottles. Some alternatives: • Paper or stainless steel straws, paired with a reusable water bottle or cup

Mote’s gift shop has planes, trains, and automobiles made from recycled plastic jugs, for eco-friendly playtime. Most sippy cups are made from plastic and end up lasting waaaay longer than the terrible twos. These aquatic-themed sippy cups made from biodegradable bamboo fiber are a more sustainable option.

• Reusable, high-quality lunch and soup containers • Travel utensil kit • Beeswax wrap

TAKE NOTES, SPROUT A PLANT Take notes with these wood pencils certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, on your 100% -post-consumer recycled notebook, and then plant the bottom of the pencil and let nature do the rest! Choose from cilantro, cherry tomato and more. SUSTAINABILITY ON YOUR SLEEVE Yes, you can now wear (recycled) plastic bottles. Shredded plastic bottles are turned into fiber to make t-shirts, backpacks and more.




In deep, 'ecological hotspots' divers find endangered species, weird microbes, and hope for better understanding the Gulf of Mexico.



n August, world-famous oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle and her organization Mission Blue named a large swath of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico Coast its newest “Hope Spot,” a place with unique ocean ecosystem features worthy of preservation. This Hope Spot, stretching from Apalachicola Bay to Ten Thousand Islands, raises awareness of the region’s fascinating natural features. Perhaps the most mysterious of those features are “blue holes”: underwater caves, springs and sinkholes that support diverse marine life. Mote Marine Laboratory scientists have pioneered the scientific exploration of blue holes, and their extensive knowledge supported the new Hope Spot designation. “A big blue salute to the champions in Florida who have gotten behind the Florida Gulf Coast Hope Spot,” Earle said, noting that the region has “joined more than 100 places around the world where people such as you have stepped up and committed to making a difference.”

“We call blue holes ‘ecological hotpots’ because they’re really biologically diverse and chemically distinct compared with the areas around them,” said Dr. Emily Hall, who leads Mote’s Ocean Acidification Research Program and Chemical & Physical Ecology Program and serves as Primary Investigator for Mote’s latest blue-hole study supported by a competitive grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. Project partners include Jim Culter, Mote’s Benthic Ecology Program Manager and a pioneer of Gulf blue hole exploration, and scientists from Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (FAU), Georgia Institute of Technology and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

That’s partly because blue holes are some of the "hotspots" of the Hope Spot.

Here is what the team discovered inside one of the deepest, darkest—and coolest—places within the Gulf Hope Spot.


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Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby said: “Mote scientists’ exploration of blue holes—one of the many projects we lead within the Hope Spot—may provide invaluable insight into the Gulf’s unique ecosystem.”

In May and September 2019, the team undertook their most detailed blue hole investigations to-date, deploying divers and a “benthic lander”—a framework holding multiple scientific instruments collectively weighing more than 600 pounds—into one of their two project study sites: the offshore Amberjack (AJ) Hole, whose bottom extends deeper than 350 feet.


SEEN A SAWFISH? The public should report sawfish sightings, alive or dead, to NOAA at: 1-844-SAWFISH


Sawfish surprise From small tube worms to gigantic whale sharks, Mote scientists have documented diverse animals at blue holes—and their latest expedition made the list even more wild. “Around the rims of blue holes we can see endangered and threatened species like sea turtles, and various species of sharks and other fishes, and the holes are important places for saltwater fishing,” Culter said. Those species feed on others found in greater abundance and diversity around blue hole rims: crustaceans, clams, worms, sponges, corals, algae and more. About 30 feet below a blue hole’s rim, visible life dwindles as dissolved oxygen drops and hydrogen sulfide compounds prevail (read: rotten egg smell). After a certain point, microscopic organisms rule the chilly, pitch-black, "alien" environment. Imagine, then, the surprise when Mote’s blue-hole divers descended into AJ Hole in September 2019 and spotted an endangered species lying on the bottom. “Two of our volunteer tech divers were searching for an instrument I had placed there in May, when they found two smalltooth sawfish,” Culter said, referring to the shark-related species known for its saw-like snout and listed as endangered largely because of fisheries bycatch and habitat loss. “Our divers got video, and when they got to the surface, they were crazy excited.” The bad news: Both sawfish were dead. The good news: They appeared intact enough to be collected for research. Mote

Top: One of two smalltooth sawfish discovered at the bottom of AJ Hole by Mote's team of trained, technical divers.

scientists quickly reported the discovery to NOAA and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the respective federal and state agencies overseeing the species. Special permits are required to interact with sawfish, alive or dead. At press time, one sawfish from AJ Hole has been successfully collected by divers working under a NOAA-issued, Endangered Species Act Section 10 permit. It was transferred to permitted FWC staff for a necropsy (animal autopsy). The sawfish was male, measuring an impressive 12 feet long.

Natural laboratories with extreme creatures While marine animals thrive at the rims of blue holes, those that travel deep inside can’t survive there long. Which living things do thrive in the low-oxygen, low pH waters near the bottom? Scientists want to know so they can better understand how the Gulf ecosystem operates today, and make better ocean predictions for tomorrow. Globally, oceans are decreasing in average pH and oxygen levels due to human activity—not becoming as extreme as blue holes, but inching a bit closer to them in ways that have real ecological consequences. “Blue holes are ‘natural laboratories’ that can help us understand changes in our environment, especially in light of decreasing pH, or ocean acidification, which is a component of climate change,” Hall said.






To explore AJ Hole’s natural lab in new detail, Hall and Culter’s team collected some 17 water samples in September from just outside AJ Hole down to the bottom, and four sediment cores at the bottom, allowing the team to measure nutrients and carbonbased compounds. The benthic lander—provided by Dr. Martial Taillefert, Professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, and operated in collaboration with Dr. Jordon Beckler, Assistant Research Professor and Director of the Geochemistry and Geochemical Sensing Lab at FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute—collected data and samples for longer periods than divers can, right where the bottom water meets the sediment. Getting it down there was an adventure. “Even though the lander is about 5 feet across and blue hole openings can be 100 feet across, it’s really hard to get something like this down there and anchored in the right place without trained divers guiding it, especially when you’re 33 miles offshore and the boat is really rocking in rough seas,” Hall said. “Also, if the lander wasn’t anchored properly at the bottom, it could slide down the side of the debris pile.” That actually happened during May’s expedition, but the lander still collected samples and data after its mini “ski trip.” In September, the lander was secured successfully near the center of the debris pile. Water samples collected by divers and the lander yielded microscopic life (microbes) whose DNA was extracted, processed to isolate specific marker genes, and analyzed by Dr. Nastassia Patin, Postdoctoral Researcher with Prof. Frank Stewart (project co-PI) at Georgia Tech. “One cool thing we found is that, in the bottom layer of water around 350 feet down, 40 percent of the microbial community was represented by Woesearchaeota, which is generally a very small minority—like 1-2 percent, if it's present at all—in most marine communities.” Woesearchaeota is a type of archaea, belonging to a different domain of life than bacteria. Finding such a high prevalence of it is unprecedented.


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Above: A technical diver passes by the benthic lander at the bottom of AJ Hole, close to 350 feet deep. Right: Dr. Nastassia Patin of Georgia Tech holds a microbial sample from AJ Hole.

Overall, the microbes in AJ Hole were layered, with different genetic varieties at different relative abundances among the top, middle and bottom layers of water. Patin noted: “The next step is to sequence the full genomes of the microbes we are finding, so we have a better idea of what these organisms are like and what they can do, biochemically.” Even before that step is completed, it’s clear that microbes play important roles in shaping the unique environment of AJ Hole, and likely other blue holes. Now, the current research effort is building a fuller picture of how these holes operate biologically, chemically and physically, and why that matters.


Underneath it all This year’s expeditions showed that blue holes are busy—not only with life, but also with carbon and nutrient cycles that underpin life. “The team found that AJ Hole's water and sediment have huge amounts of dissolved inorganic carbon, which can support some kinds of life—including microbes that can put that carbon back into the environment in a form that other organisms can access.” Hall said. This process is important in global carbon cycles, which must be understood to make accurate climate change projections. “The team found that AJ Hole is a place where a lot of carbon is being put back into the environment. We have to pay attention to this. The Gulf has many blue holes, and if the same thing is happening in all of them, then that’s a lot of carbon contributing to the Gulf’s carbon budget.” FAU and Georgia Tech scientists investigated nutrient dynamics and other chemical processes—including the sulphur and metal compounds microbes “breathe” in the absence of oxygen—in sediments and the bottom-water interface in AJ Hole, using sophisticated instruments on the benthic lander. “The most interesting thing is that we saw nutrient flux from the bottom sediment into the water; the fact that we were able to document that with both cores and the benthic lander is huge,” said FAU’s Beckler. Based on preliminary analyses of 2019 expedition data, he said: “We think nutrients are coming up from the blue hole, fueling primary production above the hole, and in turn, a whole cascade of larger organisms—but some carbon/nutrients ultimately cycle back to the sediments as detritus, fueling additional fluxes and restarting the positive feedback cycle.” To complement the nutrient work of Beckler and Taillefert, Hall is currently analyzing data on how far nutrients drift outside AJ Hole. As Beckler noted, project data suggest that nutrients reach the rim and support primary production by microscopic algae

Above: Jim Culter of Mote holds a container he used to collect a sediment core from AJ Hole. Middle and bottom: Dr. Jordon Beckler and Andrew Stancil of FAU process sediment from AJ Hole to investigate nutrients and carbon.




(phytoplankton), plant-like organisms that, in turn, feed other species. Phytoplankton also include harmful species, such as the toxin-producing Florida red tide algae (Karenia brevis) that forms blooms offshore in the Gulf. The team found no K. brevis in the offshore AJ hole, but they found a sister species called Karenia asterichroma, which produces brevetoxins like K. brevis. How do blue holes get so fertile to begin with? “We think that these areas with seafloor ‘roughness’—whether it be a blue hole or just a generic ledge—offer organisms not just shelter to hide, but also serve to physically trap organic carbon and nutrient detritus,” Beckler said. “Upon their degradation in sediments and release of bioavailable nutrients to kickstart the positive feedback cycle, this geochemistry now fuels an ‘ecological engine’ that promotes life, beyond just aggregating it. Only through interdisciplinary collaborations like this can we uncover the true mechanisms linking biology to geochemistry.”

Above: From left: Jim Culter of Mote, Nastassia Patin of Georgia Tech, and Dr. Emily Hall of Mote get ready for the September 2019 deployment of the benthic lander, shown here, into a blue hole.

Hints of groundwater connections Some blue holes seem connected to other cavities in Florida’s porous, limestone bedrock, and the groundwater they contain. Such connections, if confirmed in multiple blue holes, should be investigated as possible “shortcuts” for saltwater intrusion into the Floridan Aquifer and its drinking water, or conversely, for fresh water carrying land-based chemicals—including nutrients—offshore. USGS scientists have already amassed evidence that groundwater and ocean water mix along west Florida—and USGS Research Geologist Dr. Christopher G. Smith is expanding that understanding further to include sites further offshore, as a partner in the 2019 AJ Hole expeditions. This year, Smith and partners found that water sampled inside AJ Hole contained markers of groundwater—naturally occurring


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isotopes of radium and radon suggesting water moved from the ground into the hole. While this doesn’t necessarily mean AJ Hole connects all the way back to the Floridan Aquifer, it reinforces that blue holes aren’t isolated from the groundwater, and the extent of their connections must be further studied. 

FOLLOW ALONG Keep up with the blue hole science team and watch videos related to this story at Hall’s blog on Mote’s website: Deep Thoughts: Exploring Blue Holes, at:



Coral ‘matchmaker’ breeds threatened species BY HAYLEY RUTGER


lorida’s coral reefs have enough problems—unprecedented levels of coral disease, climate change, pollution and hurricanes—without struggling to reproduce sexually. But struggle they do. As environmental stress grows and coral populations shrink worldwide, coral sexual cycles are becoming disrupted and failing altogether in some locations and for some species, which has serious implications for the survival and long-term persistence of natural and restored populations. Sexual reproduction—in which the DNA of gametes (sperm and eggs) from two different corals of the same species recombine through a cyclic process of spawning and fertilization—provides the next generation of genetically diverse coral offspring that can replenish depleted adult populations and disperse to establish new reefs. Genetic diversity, powered by sex, is a safety net that promotes population resilience by providing a buffer against environmental change and the flexibility to adapt. When sexual reproduction breaks down, so does that safety net, just when corals need it most. Since the 1980s, coral cover has declined by approximately 80% in the Caribbean and 50% worldwide. The resulting small patchy populations have less successful spawning, fertilization and recruitment of new individuals back into the population. This is why Mote Marine Laboratory, and several other organizations, are stepping in to assist with coral sexual propagation, and why research scientists, like Dr. Hanna R. Koch, are exploring novel reproductive interventions for

Above: Gamete bundles (packets of sperm and eggs) produced during sexual reproduction

advancing coral restoration strategies. Koch is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the German Research Foundation and Visiting Research Scientist at Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center Dr. Hanna Koch for Coral Reef Research & Restoration (IC2R3). She is collaborating with Mote scientists Dr. Erinn Muller and Erich Bartels to investigate the heritability of disease resistance and establish a managed breeding program for generating more resilient offspring for coral restoration. This summer, Koch took a big step forward: turning Mote’s nursery-raised staghorn corals—which are scientifically well studied and genetically documented—into parents for a carefully managed sexual reproduction effort that will feed fresh genetics into future restoration and research. "This step, adding new genetic diversity with a new level of control, represents a critical new link in the chain of Mote’s uniquely comprehensive strategy for science-based reef restoration," said Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby. “Now, our one organization can do every step essential for resilient coral reef restoration, and I think this is a big deal,” said Muller, Science Director for Mote’s IC2R3. “We can complete the sexual reproduction steps of spawning, fertilization and larval settlement; we can grow corals out, identify individual coral genotypes (genetic varieties) and test them for resilience to multiple stressors; and we can produce more coral colonies through asexual fragmentation and outplant them to depleted reefs. Then those adult colonies can produce more offspring to start the cycle all over again.”





Preparing corals for their big day

Romantic sunsets and moonlit nights

In spring 2019, Koch and partners laid the groundwork for their managed sexual reproduction effort using staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), a species whose populations have declined 95% in the past 40 years due to whiteband disease, high ocean temperatures and other stressors. Now listed as Threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, staghorn coral is one of several focal species of Mote’s research and restoration programs that have raised and documented numerous staghorn genotypes with varying traits.

Humans aren’t the only ones who get a bit amorous under the full moon. Staghorn corals spawn at night, primarily two to six days after the August full moon.

In April, Koch, joined by Bartels and intern Allyson DeMerlis, set up Mote’s first coral spawning nursery within Bartel’s staghorn restoration nursery off Looe Key. The team modified the coral “trees”—that usually hold small coral fragments being propagated asexually—to hold larger colonies. Colony size, not age, determines sexual maturity: when these hermaphroditic corals produce both male and female gametes.

Koch and her team spent eight long nights on spawning duty, wearing full-body clothing to protect against mosquitoes, as bug spray and other chemicals aren’t allowed around sensitive coral gametes. They used red lights to watch for corals “setting”—where gamete bundles are moved into position for release, a helpful signal that spawning is imminent.

In July 2019, Koch and DeMerlis sampled their corals and found that half contained developing gametes—a better percentage than typically seen on stressed, wild reefs. For this reason, Koch said, “spawning nurseries have the potential to provide greater and more reliable access to coral spawn that can be used for research and restoration.” She added, “We grew these sexually mature colonies from large fragments in less than a year in this nursery, which speeds up progress significantly for this type of work—especially since wild or outplanted corals may need two or more years.” Above: Staghorn corals are collected from Mote's spawning nursery. Below: Coral cross section with developing gametes (pink)

To prevent field operations being disrupted by unpredictable weather, Koch and Mote staff brought 62 nursery-raised staghorn corals into outdoor tanks at IC2R3 and provided the sunset and moonlight cues needed for spawning.

Above: Dr. Hanna Koch (left) and her team wait for corals to spawn, collect their gametes (sperm and eggs) and conduct managed breeding efforts. Below: A coral is "setting," with its gamete bundles in position for release. Right (top): A spawning staghorn coral releases gametes that will fuse with gametes from a genetically distinct staghorn coral in the process of sexual reproduction. Right (bottom): Developing coral embryos look like irregular "blobs" compared with the round, unfertilized eggs.


Little bundles of joy

Growing and glowing

Of 62 coral colonies, nine colonies of four genotypes spawned.

Within a few days, Mote’s staghorn coral babies had developed into larvae, which Koch settled on ceramic plugs. By Sept. 1, Koch had 50% settlement and was raising 200 coral settlers, also called sexual recruits, which will add fresh genetics to Mote’s staghorn restoration and research efforts.

“I was very pleased with the results, as these colonies were relatively small and first-timers; this initial spawning behavior data is crucial to developing a successful breeding regime,” Koch said. “Interestingly, the genotypes that are whiteband disease resistant did not spawn during the predicted window, indicating more research is needed to understand why,” she added. Fortunately, certain coral colonies released their gametes with enough synchrony (similar timing) to allow breeding between genetically different parents. Corals must spawn on the same night to combine their sperm and eggs, which are only viable for a few hours. However, coral spawning synchrony is declining in the wild as populations and environmental conditions become degraded. The team collected the gamete bundles and allowed them to break up in the lab, releasing sperm and eggs. Then they combined eggs and sperm from genetically different parents—cross fertilization—to produce diverse offspring. Breeding success between two corals can vary depending on which parent provided the sperm and which provided the egg, so Koch allowed each coral in a pair to be mom, then dad. The next day, the team gazed through their microscope to spot developing embryos—irregular blobs distinct from the round, unfertilized eggs. “Fertilization rates were quite high, with one batch reaching 50% and the other 80%!” Koch said.

Each settled larva develops into a coral polyp—one of many that will ultimately form the coral colony. Polyps start out transparent and later gain color from special algae that enter their tissues and play a critical role in their survival. New recruits are hard to see, but Koch uses blue light to detect fluorescence naturally emitted by the coral. “I’m using this method for more quickly identifying and more accurately quantifying microscopic sexual recruits,” she said. “Fluorescence starts during the larval stage, and this natural ability helps researchers in many ways, in addition to being absolutely beautiful!” These glowing coral babies represent the possibility of a brighter future of restored reefs in the wild, and they’re the latest reminder that Mote’s coral science and restoration—newly strengthened through managed breeding—are a match made in heaven.  Above: "Baby" corals naturally fluoresce under blue lights. Below: "Baby" coral


Coral reefs: they invoke a vision of countless species of colorful fish, against a backdrop of seemingly endless coral colonies. A true “rainforest of the sea,” coral reefs provide habitat to 25% of marine life, and help create the world’s supply of oxygen.


On Oct. 26, 2019, bright, tropical centerpieces and virtual fish swimming on the walls transported nearly 500 guests attending Mote’s Oceanic Evening to a colorful coral scene on land at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. The event gathered supporters, scientists and elected officials to celebrate another year of paradigm-shifting, world-class marine research at Mote, and to look towards the future.


Officially unveiled at Oceanic Evening, Mote’s Beyond 2020 Vision & Strategic Plan reaffirms Mote’s long-standing commitment to be a leader for innovative science and ocean literacy to address rapidly growing and evolving challenges to conservation and sustainable use of our shared marine resources at local to global levels.

While addressing the attendees of Oceanic Evening, Mote’s President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby reminded everyone that it was Mr. William R. Mote, the Lab’s namesake, that often said, “we have taken from the sea for so long, it is time to give back.” From coral restoration and ocean technology, to fisheries enhancement and algal bloom mitigation, to immunology and microbiology, Mote is working towards innovated, science-based solutions for the challenges facing our oceans, for the present and for future generations.


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Top left: Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby with Judy Graham, Mote Trustee and Event Chair Top right: The theme of this year's gala was Living Coral, celebrating Mote's coral reef research and restoration efforts. Middle: From left: Staff Sergeant Jace Badia with wife Stephanie Badia; Andrea Sciortino and Specialist Charles Lemon; Mote President & CEO Dr. Michael P. Crosby with wife Sharon; Katherine O'Hare and Sergeant First Class Billy Costello Bottom left: Dr. Chris Gelvin, Mote Trustee and Honorary Event Chair Elizabeth Moore, Mote Board Chairman Dr. Howard (Sam) Seider with wife Dorene


Bottom right: Janis Swan and Mote Trustee Hobart (Skip) Swan




Sustainability Fellowships help informal educators initiate or strengthen sustainability projects at their institutions. The 2019-20 Sustainability Fellows are supported by the National Informal STEM Education (NISE) Network. Fellows were selected through a competitive application process and are required to attend a two-day conference at Arizona State University, participate in three online workshops and develop a project to engage the public in learning about sustainability.

New Center of Excellence champions minorities in marine science BY STEPHANNIE KETTLE This year, independent marine science institutions joined forces to share their unique educational insights through a new Center of Excellence in Broadening Participation that will offer training and resources to science mentors, research institutions and key learners they serve: minority students historically underrepresented in marine science careers. The new Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation: Marine Science Laboratory Alliance Center of Excellence (LSAMP MarSci-LACE) is led by Mote Marine Laboratory: an independent, nonprofit marine research institution with a unique model for translating real-world STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) discoveries for direct educational and workforce impact. LSAMP MarSci-LACE is co-funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES). MarSci-LACE is supported by NSF Award Number 1922351. By leveraging the unique scientific resources, exceptional staff and innovative,


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entrepreneurial culture that define independent marine research institutions (IMRIs), MarSci-LACE will implement a new paradigm for increasing underrepresented minority student success in marine STEM. Specifically, MarSci-LACE will be a nexus training, resource and supporting partner for other IMRIs, degree granting institutions, LSAMP students, and science educators and mentors, developing trainings and resources for staff and faculty, providing underrepresented minority students with resources including grant and scholarship opportunities, and collecting and sharing key materials and knowledge through a virtual resource center and a new conference, to help underrepresented minority students and their educators succeed. By drawing upon the insights unique to IMRIs, science faculty can provide more effective research experiences for underrepresented minority students to take key steps toward successful, STEM careers.

Mote educator awarded sustainability fellowship BY HAYLEY RUTGER In September, Virtual Learning Education Specialist Ross Johnston at Mote Marine Laboratory was selected as one of 28 national and international Sustainability Fellows for The Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability in Science and Technology Museums Initiative.

Johnston’s Fellowship will connect Mote’s virtual learning program, SEATrek.TV, with multiple audiences, sharing Mote’s mission of marine research and sustainability through an open-format, multi-point, public livestream television broadcast that aligns with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 14: Life Below Water. Mote’s SEATrek.TV received funding from The Rob and Melani Walton Foundation through the Sustainability in Science and Technology Museums program at Arizona State University.


Turtle triumph on Mote-monitored nesting beaches

number of individual nesting females. They also logged a record 728 turtle encounters, each time documenting the individual turtle and its behavior, the date and location.



Sea turtles laid a 38-year-record number of nests this summer on beaches from Longboat Key through Venice, Florida, reported Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program (STCRP).

Supporting corals in their time of need BY STEPHANNIE KETTLE Mote Marine Laboratory is advancing its vital coral research and restoration initiative thanks to a two-year grant of $250,000 total from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. Corals worldwide face massive threats from climate change and devastating diseases including the unprecedented outbreak of stony coral tissue loss disease causing major mortality of multiple species on Florida reefs. Mote, a “Designated Partner” in the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations' new Environmental Engagement, Stewardship & Solutions grant-making program, will advance its ongoing research to identify resilient coral genotypes and the mechanism behind their resiliency, and anticipate the effects of various climate scenarios on individual coral species and the entire reef ecosystems. These and other findings will help ensure that outplanted corals have the highest chances of surviving future environmental conditions.

Mote’s STCRP scientists and volunteers monitor this 35-mile stretch of southwest Florida beaches every day of sea turtle nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31, providing data crucial for conservation and management of these threatened and endangered species. By press time in early October, they had documented 5,112 total nests from all local sea turtle species (compared with the past record, 4,589 in 2016). This year’s total included 4,925 loggerhead nests, 182 green turtle nests (breaking the species’ local record) and five other nests. The increased green turtle nesting presented an important opportunity to learn more about this threatened species. STCRP scientists applied satellite transmitter tags to seven green sea turtle females, more than ever before, to track their migrations after they left the nesting beaches. The public can follow them at

This year also brought surprises to Motemonitored beaches: four nests from Earth’s largest sea turtle species, the leatherback. Before this year, Mote had documented only one nest (in 2001) from this locally rare species found more often on Florida’s east coast. This year’s leatherback nests did not hatch successfully, and the presence of undeveloped eggs suggested that the female may have been unable to find a mate. Even so, her visits provided important research opportunities; Mote scientists were able to successfully observe her, confirm that she had not been tagged before, apply flipper tags and a PIT tag and collect a small skin sample that could be used to match her to future nests genetically, if she returns.  Mote’s STCRP sea turtle monitoring and research is conducted under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Marine Turtle Permits 027, 054, 070, 048, 028, and 155.

One of this year’s satellite-tagged turtles was named “Cecil” by Carol Bishop, the winner of Mote’s sea turtle naming contest. Bishop chose the name “Cecil” in honor of her mother, who passed away last year. Sea turtles also won, as the contest raised $1,200 in donations for Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program in just 10 days! STCRP scientists also identified a record 474 nesting females and tagged newly encountered individuals with flipper tags and passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags (similar to pet microchips), which allow researchers to estimate the




Tampa Bay’s stone crabs in scientific spotlight BY HAYLEY RUTGER Mote Marine Laboratory is launching a new research and education project examining which coastal habitats might help stone crabs—a $30-million seafood staple in Florida—survive the growing threat of ocean acidification (OA), thanks to a new grant from Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund (TBERF). The $70,000 grant will be matched by Mote and support the latest of several Mote studies aiming to shed light on possible contributors to the 30% decrease in Florida’s yearly stone crab catch since 2000. Female stone crabs brood their eggs in coastal environments vulnerable to OA, a worldwide decrease in ocean water pH driven by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Some coastal habitats in Florida are experiencing seasonal declines in pH estimated to be three times faster than the rate of OA anticipated for global oceans by the end of the century due to nutrient-rich runoff. According to a recent publication by Mote scientists, stone crab eggs brooded in low pH water mimicking future OA

conditions were 28% less likely to hatch than eggs raised in “normal” (ambient pH) seawater. Some stone crab broods (groups of eggs), however, were more tolerant of the OA conditions than others. What’s their secret? That question will drive Mote’s new, two-year, TBERF-funded project. Mote scientists will investigate whether stone crab eggs tolerate OA better if their mothers have been living in habitats where the pH naturally goes up and down more frequently than in habitats that experience less pH variability. They hypothesize that stone crabs exposed to more pH variability might be “toughened” against OA, perhaps building resilience over multiple generations and possibly allowing the species to acclimatize to pH extremes. “Our project will be the first to characterize and identify habitats that may serve as potential OA refugia for stone crabs within Tampa Bay, which is one of Florida’s top three sites for juvenile stone crab settlement,” said Mote Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr. Philip Gravinese, the study’s primary investigator. Starting in fall 2019, Mote scientists and educators will also publish a guided-inquiry, high school lesson based on this stone crab study in a peer-reviewed scientific journal that educators can access online, and they will work with local educators to share this lesson with at least 100 high school students. 






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Mote finds untapped resource for sustainable seafood BY HAYLEY RUTGER Seafood farmers can raise fish successfully on a diet made with leftover, wild-caught mullet—a discovery that can improve sustainable seafood farming and add value to a major Florida fishery— reported Mote Marine Laboratory in fall 2019, after completing a study supported by Gulf Coast Community Foundation. Study partners fed farmed fish a newly developed diet made with whole, striped mullet (Mugil cephalus)—a species fished to produce valuable bottarga (cured roe), leaving behind meat and oil that are underutilized. In the study, a diet based on these mullet "leftovers" supported excellent growth, health and survival in farmed fishes—nourishing a freshwater fish species as effectively as a commercial diet, and nourishing a saltwater species more effectively than a commercial diet. Farming animals and plants in water, known as aquaculture, supplies more than half the planet’s seafood and must continue growing because most wild fish stocks are overfished. One big challenge is how best to feed aquacultured fishes—many of which eat other fishes in the wild. Commercial aquaculture diets usually contain some


wild-caught fish meal; finding alternative protein sources is increasingly important for ocean sustainability. To do that, Mote launched its mulletbased feed study in 2016, after competing successfully for funding from Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s 2015 Gulf Coast Innovation Challenge. “Our Innovation Challenge was all about inspiring and seeding new ideas that could produce an economic impact for our region with environmental benefits,” said Mark S. Pritchett, President/CEO of Gulf Coast. “It was a long play, but Mote followed through on this project and has clearly realized that potential.” 

New red tide study: Why do blooms vary and ultimately end? BY HAYLEY RUTGER From late 2017 to early 2019, a major bloom of Florida red tide killed nearly 600 sea turtles, more than 200 manatees and 150 dolphins, while significantly decreasing the quality of life in many communities along Florida’s Gulf Coast. In the bloom’s wake, Mote Marine Laboratory and partners are redoubling their efforts to understand how environmental variables influence Florida red

tides—a higher-than-normal concentrations of Karenia brevis algae—and how these harmful algal blooms ultimately come to an end. A new Mote-led project spanning September 2019 through August 2024, funded by a $5-million, competitive, peer-reviewed grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ECOHAB program, will investigate the life and death of Florida red tides in the eastern Gulf of Mexico in new detail. Mote's project partners include Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), New York UniversityAbu Dhabi, University of Maryland, and the University of South Florida. “Prolonged blooms of Florida red tide draw intense public, political and media attention, are ecologically and economically devastating and also cause serious human health impacts,” said Dr. Cynthia Heil, Mote’s Lead Investigator on this project and Manager of Mote’s Harmful Algal Bloom Mitigation & Ecology Program and Director of its Red Tide Institute. “This prolonged 2017 bloom of 15 months— which coincided with extreme weather events including Hurricane Irma and Tropical Storm Gordon, and an extremely wet summer—highlights the need to address two critical aspects of K. brevis bloom ecology: the role of extreme events in magnifying directly or indirectly the intensity and/or duration (i.e. expansion)

of blooms, and the factors that ultimately lead to bloom decline.” Extreme and wet weather can affect ocean systems physically—moving and mixing water masses and particles, and affecting conditions including salinity and temperature—as well as chemically and biologically, affecting and transporting chemical compounds such as nutrients used by K. brevis, and influencing K. brevis cells and other organisms that can promote or inhibit them. Mote, FWC and many other partners have significantly advanced the understanding of these factors through past NOAA ECOHAB-funded projects. Bloom termination, however, remains one of the least-understood processes in Florida red tide research. The current project will apply new field, laboratory and mathematical modeling approaches to better understand how Florida red tides vary from year to year in their magnitude, what factors cause a bloom to expand and spread, and what influences bloom decline. Heil said: “Such knowledge is absolutely critical to—and required for—effective bloom management, including modeling efforts that allow for longer-term bloom predictions than are currently possible, minimization of bloom-related economic damage to marine industries and tourism, and the development of targeted mitigation efforts that directly reduce red tide blooms and their impacts.” 




Ann Walborn


A legacy of service

DEC. 1 AND 29 Estuary Exploration Water-based program for ages 6-17 with accompanying adult. 1:30-2:30 p.m. Details and registration:

BY LAUREN HUGHEY When Ann Walborn and her husband moved to Sarasota, they had 42 visitors in their first season and they brought every single one of them to Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium.

DEC. 7 Youth Ocean Conservation Summit Empowering youths in ocean conservation. Mote Keating Marine Education Center, 1599 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL, 34236. youthoceanconservationsummit.

Walborn, a geriatrics nurse by training and former owner/operator of a private long-term-care facility and home-healthcare business, wanted to do something completely different in retirement. After visiting Mote nearly once a week for an entire year, she signed up to volunteer, and 13 years later, she reports to her docent post every Wednesday afternoon. Outside her docent responsibilities, she also gives behind-the-scenes tours for special guests; is a fan favorite in Mote’s Speakers Bureau, educating audiences about Mote and coral health and restoration; and has served in various leadership roles including Secretary of Mote’s Volunteer Advisory Council. Walborn has volunteered for more than 13,500 hours at Mote and is viewed as a critical extension of teams across the organization. A compassionate extrovert who loves education, she is a natural teacher who brings a deep commitment to science and the ocean to her work. “Understanding what’s going on in our oceans is crucial for our survival,” she said. For Walborn, volunteering at Mote is a family affair. Her late husband Ray joined the Mote fisheries volunteer team when they moved to Sarasota, and her daughter invited Mote’s traveling exhibit to be part of her wedding reception. Just recently, Walborn conscripted her


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DEC. 10 Coffee with a Scientist Speaker: Dr. Robert Hueter, Manager of Mote’s Sharks and Rays Conservation Research Program. 9 a.m., Woman’s Club Room Boca Grande Community Center. Free. 131 1st Street W., Boca Grande, FL 33921. Sponsored by U.S. Trust, Bank of America. RSVP:

grandchildren to help construct special “thank yous” for the Mote staff. In addition to inspiring thousands of visitors to better care for our oceans each year, Walborn supports Mote financially, and she will continue advancing the organization’s mission for generations to come, as a member of Mote’s Legacy Society—the special group of supporters who include Mote in their estate plans. Walborn’s warmth, humor and her heart of a teacher make her an indispensable member of the Mote team. 

LEARN MORE ABOUT: Mote's Legacy Society (941) 388-4441 ext. 352

DEC. 12 Sip & Shop In-store event at J.McLaughlin—15% of purchase proceeds will be donated to Mote. 12-5 p.m. 515 Bay Isles Parkway, Longboat Key, FL 34228. DEC. 21 Open House for Shark Pups & Grownups Drop in 10 a.m.-1 p.m. for a sneak peek at this exciting education program for preschoolers and their favorite adults. Pre-registration preferred. sharkpups DEC. 23, 24, 26, 30 AND 31; JAN. 2 AND 3 Mote’s Winter Break Camp Kindergarten through 5th grade. Details & registration: DEC. 28 Breakfast with the Sharks Continental breakfast, narrated shark feeding. 8:30-10 a.m. at Mote Aquarium, Sarasota. Details and registration (required) : experiences


Mote 2020 Events Calendar DATE TBD Santa Jaws (meet Gilly the Shark) Mote Aquarium. JANUARY 2020 JAN. 6, 13, 20 AND 27; FEB. 3 Special Lecture Series Talks by marine science & animal care leaders. Doors open 5:30 p.m.; lectures start 6:30. Mote's WAVE Center, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL. JAN. 10 Boca Grande Red Tide Forum 4 p.m.. Boca Grande Community Center Auditorium. RSVP: JAN. 11 Homeschool Open House A sneak peek at Mote’s homeschool programs for students and their favorite chaperones. 10 a.m.-noon. Pre-registration required. JAN. 13 Summer Camp Registration opens For members & past participants. Registration opens for general public on Jan. 27. JAN. 14 Coffee with a Scientist Speaker is Gretchen Lovewell, Manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program. 9 a.m., Houghton Room at Boca Grande Community Center. Sponsored by U.S. Trust, Bank of America. RSVP: JAN. 19 Farm to Fillet Outdoor culinary experience and behind-thescenes tour focused on Mote’s sustainable seafood farming research. 12:30 p.m. at Mote Aquaculture Research Park, 12300 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, FL 34240. farmtofillet FEBRUARY

More details and registration at: M O T E . O R G / E V E N T S

Program. 9 a.m., Woman’s Club Room at Boca Grande Community Center. Sponsored by U.S. Trust, Bank of America. RSVP: FEB. 27 Mote’s Legacy Society Recognition Brunch Honoring those who include Mote in their estate plans. Time TBD. Mote’s Keating Marine Education Center, Sarasota. FEB. 29 Special Exhibit Opening! A very special, limited-time exhibit opens in Mote Aquarium—check for details in January. MARCH MARCH 10 Coffee with a Scientist Speaker is Dr. Erinn Muller, Science Director of Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration. 9 a.m., Woman’s Club Room at Boca Grande Community Center. RSVP: WEEKS OF MARCH 16 & MARCH 23 Mote’s Spring Break Camp Offered Monday-Friday each week at Mote in Sarasota. Details & registration: MARCH 20 Party on the Pass Evening of good food, good fun and good will, supporting Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital and Jane’s Refuge: The Hospital for Dolphins & Whales at Mote Marine Laboratory. 6:30 p.m. At Mote, Sarasota. MARCH-APRIL DATES TBD Mote's Ocean Fest in Key West APRIL APRIL 3 Boca Grande Marine Pollution Forum 4 p.m. Boca Grande Community Center Auditorium. RSVP:

FEB. 7 Youth Making Ripples Film Festival Doors open 5:45, event 6-8. Submissions due Jan. 5. WAVE Center at Mote, Sarasota.

APRIL 4 Run for the Turtles Benefiting Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation & Research Program. 6:30 a.m. registration on site, 7:30 1-mile race and 8 a.m. 5K race on Siesta Beach. Register:

FEB. 18 Coffee with a Scientist Speaker is Dr. Jim Locascio, Manager of Mote’s Fisheries Habitat Ecology & Acoustics

APRIL 28-29 (NOON TO NOON) Giving Challenge Online give-a-thon for community

nonprofits. Learn more at thegivingchallenge and support Mote at MAY MAY 10 Mother’s Day special Moms get free Aquarium admission with the purchase of their accompanied cchild’s ticket (one paid ticket per free ticket). JUNE JUNE DATES AND DETAILS TBD World Oceans Week with various activities celebrating the sea JUNE 1 Mote’s summer camps begin (and conclude Aug. 7). JUNE 21 Father’s Day special Dads get free admission with the purchase of their accompanied child’s ticket (one paid ticket per free ticket). SEPTEMBER SEPT. 5, 12, 19, 26 Saturdays in September Discount Mote admission for Florida residents DATES TBD Snook Shindig Tournament focused on catching, sampling and releasing snook tagged by Mote OCTOBER OCT. 23 Fish, Fun & Fright A Halloween celebration in Mote Aquarium, Sarasota. Details TBD. Check halloween OCT. 31 Oceanic Evening The annual, black-tie gala supporting Mote’s mission. Details TBD. Check NOVEMBER ALL MONTH Member Appreciation Month Exclusive member-only events. Watch for updates in our Mote Insider email newsletter and on



NON Profit org. U.S. Postage PAID Lebanon Junction, KY Permit #698

1600 Ken Thompson Parkway Sarasota, FL 34236-1004 (941) 388-4441



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Get ready for an exhibit


Cretaceous Period

Feb. 29, 2020 An exciting limited time exhibit opens at Mote Aquarium! Tune in for more information:

@MoteMarineLab #splashintothepast MOT E . O R G / A N C I E N T S E A S