Mote Marine Laboratory began the demolition of its buildings in the Florida Keys today, Feb. 18, to make way for the construction of its new research and education facility. This afternoon Mote leaders, scientists and supporters joined construction contractors for a hard-hat kickoff ceremony of sledgehammer blows and heavy-duty excavation on Summerland Key. Full-scale demolition is expected to start Monday, Feb. 22.
“We’re coming together today to launch a new era,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President & CEO of Mote. “This is a new era for Mote as an integral part of this community, for coral reef research and restoration and for science having a positive impact in actively addressing future challenges to the viability of our ecology, economy and culture in the Florida Keys and beyond.”
The planned 19,000-square-foot facility, expected to open in early 2017, will more than double Mote’s research and education space at the Lab’s Summerland Key property. It will allow Mote to expand programs focused on studying and restoring damaged coral reefs and on finding new ways to address global threats to reefs — particularly climate change and ocean acidification.
Mote’s new facility has been designed with the goal of achieving a LEED Gold certification. If this is accomplished it will be the first LEED Gold-certified facility in Monroe County, according to the construction contractor. LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification recognizes green buildings that “save money and resources and have a positive impact on the health of occupants, while promoting renewable, clean energy,” says the LEED website. LEED Gold buildings have attained the second-highest of four levels, marking a significant commitment to green building that evinces Mote’s mission of sustainability.
During Thursday’s ceremony, Mote staff, donors and others swung sledge hammers at one of the old residential buildings. Then the contractor, Willis A. Smith Construction, Inc., provided a large front excavator and allowed Mote CEO Crosby to give the building a few harder blows. Full-scale demolition will start Monday, Feb. 22.
George H. Mazzarantani, a Director for The Gardener Foundation, said: “The primary reason we got involved is because of the world-class science and technology going on at Mote. We felt that Mote needed to have a facility that matches their level of scientific sophistication. By leveraging our donation, we hope Mote can do even more than they’re doing now.”
In that spirit, the Rick and Nancy Moskovitz Foundation donated $2 million toward Mote’s new facility. “We’re amazed at Mote’s work, and their projects with corals in the Keys have special appeal,” said Rick Moskovitz. “All life as we know it is dependent on the survival of the precious organisms that build coral reefs, which makes this work ground zero for the survival of the planet. This work must go forward.”
Mote research in the Keys focuses on coral reefs, “rainforests of the sea” that support thousands of marine species and contribute $6.3 billion to Florida’s economy. Reefs worldwide are threatened by climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, disease and more.
Mote’s Summerland Key facility — the southernmost marine lab in the continental U.S. and an international beacon of coral research — is uniquely positioned to study and restore depleted reefs, especially those in Florida’s blue backyard.
Mote scientists are leading efforts to understand why coral reefs are declining and how to bring them back in this lifetime. To study how coral reefs will respond to the threat of ocean acidification — a harmful ocean chemistry change driven by carbon dioxide from human activity — Mote is spearheading research using an enhanced, state-of-the art ocean acidification system established through a National Science Foundation grant and hosting workshops with researchers from around the world. Mote scientists have also conducted some of the first-ever studies showing how stress from warming water can render corals more susceptible to disease.
In one of their best-known projects, Mote raises thousands of fragments of staghorn coral, a threatened species, and plants them into the wild in cooperation with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Mote scientists are studying these coral fragments to find strains most likely to survive changing ocean conditions.
In a major breakthrough, Mote scientists developed a technique for quickly growing and restoring corals — including the slow-growing brain, boulder and star corals that are crucial for building reefs. Mote’s technique allows for restoring large areas of reef-building corals in just one or two years instead of the hundreds of years that some slow-growing corals might need on their own.
“In the early days, it took us six years to raise 600 corals the old fashioned way, and then we learned to fragment them into very small pieces, and this technique of ‘microfragmenting’ allows them to grow 10 to 40 times faster,” said Dr. David Vaughan, Executive Director of Mote’s Summerland Key lab. “We are growing 16- to 20,000 corals now. In the next few years, we want to increase this to 100,000, and ultimately even a million.”
Vaughan continued: “That process we developed — breaking corals into small pieces to help them grow — we are going to do that with our buildings here. We will break the existing facilities into many tiny pieces, and the big building that we’ll construct here will grow many more corals.”
The new building will benefit more than Mote’s work. The Summerland Key facility hosts and supports the work of approximately 150 non-resident scientists from over 60 different U.S. and international institutions, while playing a key role in studies worldwide.
“When this new facility gets going, Mote’s work will have a greater ripple effect throughout the international community,” said Elizabeth Moore, who donated $1 million for Mote’s Keys facility. “We’ll have international scientists come and learn how to do innovative coral restoration like Mote is doing and then bring it to their coastal communities. My whole family has been into scuba diving on reefs all over the Caribbean, and my daughter Merry is a marine science student at St. Stephen's Episcopal School in Bradenton. When you take this interest to another level, you start caring about reef ecosystems and you realize there are many threats to our reefs. This is something we can do to help.”
•The public can support Oceans of Opportunity, including the new Keys facility, by visiting www.moteoceans.org or contacting Chief Development Officer Erin Knievel at 941-388-4441, ext. 309, or [email protected].
Keys construction timing
In early January 2016, Mote researchers emptied the current two residential and office buildings on Summerland Key in preparation for their demolition, which kicked off Feb. 18 and will move forward with full force starting Feb. 22. The current working lab building will remain fully operational throughout demolition and construction. Once the new project is 99 percent complete, the old lab will be demolished. Construction will ramp up during summer 2016, with the goal of opening the facility in early 2017.