Flats Nation was invited for a media-level tour of the Mote Marine International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration in Summerland Key the other day, and it was just awesome!
I had the attention and ear of two staff members/scientists, plus their Director of Regional Operations for hours and was overly impressed with the talent, concern, and their operational format and procedures!
A little history for those unfamiliar with Mote Marine as a research laboratory and highly involved in various conservation efforts before other awesome groups like CCA of Florida or CFCW (Captains for Clean Water) were as prevalent as they are today with their great efforts. There was Mote Marine that started in 1955, including some help from one of my young influences and producer of shows I always enjoyed watching as a young man, Captain Jacques Cousteau.
If you are interested in reading more about Mote Marine's storied History, you can find out more about that by clicking Here
So, as explained and demonstrated to me on the entire coral lifecycle, what we are facing down in The Keys is our coral reefs have been hit and hit hard with SCTLD better known as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease which is reported to have started around 2014. Unknown though (still) is the root cause for such, but several theories have been proposed. Here is a good link that goes into detail on SCTLD that you may find interesting by clicking Here
Diseases (unlike pollution) by nature are natural, but as we have seen, some extra factors can exacerbate these conditions, much like the same with Red Tide (which is natural yet even found in Calusa Shell Middens going back hundreds of years) getting fueled to an even greater extent, by other factors. Factors like nutrient pollution, as discussed in this quick posting found some months back on Flats Nation, can be found by clicking Here
As I have been known by Friends, Colleagues, and Staff who worked with me over the years, my saying (usually stated with a smile or chuckle) "Well, It's kind of hard to put out a Fire with Gasoline!" thus some of our Ecosystem problems in some way we (collective by various means) could be doing just that... Pouring Gasoline on a Burning Fire (like the Piney Point chemical release) and then wondering why we have issues?
I am not a Marine Biologist (missed my calling some); thus will not speculate on the causes for Coral SCTLD myself, nor by experience will blindly accept (politically) motivated causes as the Gospel as we have seen for other (suspect) ecosystem issues and concerns... No, our position here on Flats Nation is to report/share what has been found by various sources for those who love Flats Fishing and its Lifestyle and by others who care about such. How you can then research those findings and come to your conclusions and choices, and supply information and links on how to help those respective causes that you find near and dear to your heart 😊
Mote Marine International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration though has several targeted methods to track and other ways to help replace (grow back) what has been lost. This and stress tests certain types that show better chances of survival under various conditions (Temperature, Acidity, Salinity) using their CAOS raceway tank systems. More on the CAOS system in a separate article soon.
High points of my visit...
Naturally, spending time with those who care and by profession dedicated to study and help is extremely rewarding which is why you and your children should visit! Several aspects of their efforts I found interesting were how they are looking for ways to help build back the coral reefs through breeding under controlled conditions. This as well as total ecosystem factors while using other animals to help accelerate the growth process as in the case of employing Spyder Crabs to help keep the coral cleaner by eating various algae that cover it and suspected could be adding to the problem.
These same crabs also have some Aquaculture value at that same time thus a win-win I hear they also taste awesome and have a taste profile like stone crabs! So, I say let us grow as many of these little cultivators as possible to help clean up the reef and break out the Old Bay Seasoning at that same time! 😊
The only issue in captive breeding Spyder Crabs found thus far seems to be that the Males are quite territorial, so reproduction rates might be impacted in those breeder tanks because they are in there fighting like a couple of kids till one becomes MIA...
Next were the study tanks for the reproduction of various coral types, where they can simulate the conditions needed to make coral run through their breeding cycle. As reported it's all a combination of Moon, Water Temperature, and Tides and only happens once a year.
And due to the amount of energy needed by the coral to create and expel eggs and sperm, even under lab conditions, they do not yet have a way to increase these events to say every six months to help produce even more coral to transplant. I am quite sure Celia one of the Mote staff reproduction biologists, and the team are looking for ways to do just that if possible!
Then you have the study and grow out tanks for the baby coral as I like to call them.
Where they can measure and control assorted items like temperature, water flow for tidal effect, etc. while still pulling in and using local seawater. Filtration is important, as anyone with a saltwater reef tank back home will attest! Yet even filtering the water down to the 1-micron level and using UV light to help kill off various dreadful things, they still run into problems. This also shows how delicate these ecosystems can be even under highly controlled laboratory conditions.
Then they have various what I like to call transplant tanks where they grow the coral to about quarter size and label each for tracking and growth purposes...
And this is not a dump-and-run affair either! This for they must build racks for some using PVC pipe and still must visit each planting at 6 months and again at a year for quality and survival measurements which as you can well figure, is quite the undertaking in both man-hours and in equipment/fuel costs. I am happy to report that they have had some remarkable success in getting these efforts to, once moved from the lab to the reef, also spawn back in the wild in a much shorter timeframe, as seen here:
So, what can you do to help with the Coral Research and Restoration efforts you ask?
The first thing I recommend (which your Children and Grandchildren might love) is to plan a visit to both Mote Marine Aquarium in Sarasota, and you can find out more about visiting by clicking Here
This as well as the Mote Marine International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration on Summerland Key. The latter has free guided tours each Tuesday starting at 10 am, and getting on the visitor's list is easy simply by calling 305-745-2729
The second item which has some returns for both you and the Coral efforts by Mote Marine is to order your own "Protect our Reefs" Tag for your Car or Truck.
Plus, you can order that same tag for your Boat or other Trailers, and each plate sold in the State of Florida provides a $25 donation to Mote Marine Laboratory and helps to fund coral reef research, restoration, education, and conservation as reported to me, has become a great source of funding for staffing. More information on getting one yourself can be found by clicking Here
The third is to get involved or, better stated, have more "Eyes on the Ecosystem." Mote and others have several ways you can help while out Fishing, Snorkeling / Diving, or just enjoying the Great Outdoors while in The Keys; here are a few:
4. And for those like my Bride that need X amount of "Retail Therapy" every so many days... You can pick up some Mote Marine Merchandise and Swag from their shop by clicking Here
In closing, much like my article on Sea Trout and the positive economic impacts of Recreational Fishing for our Great State to the tune of 9.2 Billion Dollars annually, which you can read about Here
Same goes the for our Coral Reef system in The Keys and other parts of Southeast Florida! Many of our favorite flat fishing targets like Tarpon, Permit, and Bonefish use these ecosystems to survive both as a food source for prey items that call these areas home. And while migrating to other areas to spawn... Here is a video that covers some of the economic benefits they provide:
And though we do not support the closure of any area to recreational fishing hook and line fishing (nothing like shooting the goose that lays the golden eggs by doing so!) We do need to be careful in these areas and tread lightly.
First, one of the best ways to do this is to use good electronics to traverse a body of water with little to zero impact on the ecosystem. Technology can be of enormous help to help stay clear of areas like Coral Reefs, Oyster Bars, and shallow Seagrass that can get hit by your prop and are not only extremely hard on our slow-growing Flats ecosystems. But it could be costly to your hull and lower units simultaneously!
Second, get involved, even if it is to buy a hat or something from Mote, CFCW, or CCA of Florida!
Thanks again to Alicia, Allison, and Celia at Mote Marine for taking the time (hours by the way) to show Flats Nation around and allowing me to ask sometimes the hard questions. I subscribe to the "Glass half Full" approach and can remember as a kid, when rivers caught on fire and how far we have come since then! As such, I may not always sign off on the "Sky is Falling" approach and attitude some have concerning problems our nearshore saltwater ecosystems are facing. I applaud their efforts and outlook on coral reef conditions and restoration! As Allison explained to me with a smile, their efforts and goal is to "Work themselves out of a job," for once they do, we will all know that our Coral Reefs and the surrounding Ecosystems that are the Life's Blood for Flats Fishing as well as The Keys economy is even more healthy again!
Flats Nation is looking forward to working further with Mote Marine with follow-up articles on more targeted initiatives they now have. One of our other planned projects is a Podcast with members of the Mote Marine International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration Staff as we discuss this topic further!
And remember our saying/tagline when we started here on Flats Nation: "No Fish, No Florida!" when it comes to all these joint conservation efforts, it is that simple...
In the meantime,
We invite you to take in a few Flats Nation Podcast Episodes to help "Scratch that Fishing Itch" when working or traveling and you cannot hitch up the Skiff and go, on these links:
Our main podcast page works great for your mobile device since it will stream on your phone/tablet. It can be found by clicking Here.
Our new Flats Nation YouTube Channel can be found by clicking Here and sharing them with family and friends if you find them Entertaining and Educational! We have some great guests in the works and planning stages on a wide range of topics and product coverage soon.
Also, The "Flats Nation" Merch and Swag collection has some new works now and can be found by clicking Here to that section to land some for yourself and your family/friends who enjoy their time here on Flats Nation. 😎
Tight Lines, and God Bless!