Environment

Baby corals give birth to new research center

This is Mote Marine Laboratory’s International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration on Summerland Key. A ribbon-cutting ceremony at the $7 million facility takes place Thursday.
This is Mote Marine Laboratory’s International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration on Summerland Key. A ribbon-cutting ceremony at the $7 million facility takes place Thursday.

Baby corals gave rise to Mote Marine Laboratory’s new Summerland Key facility that formally opens Thursday.

“I never thought I’d see this,” said Mote’s Summerland director Dr. David Vaughan, “but I never thought we’d be able to grow corals so fast.”

The success of Mote in nurturing several types of corals — elkhorn, brain, boulder, mountain star, in addition to staghorn — helped pave the way for the nonprofit group’s commitment to rebuild the Summerland Key facility at a cost of around $7 million.

“This not only is making a big difference on our Florida Keys reefs, but is a shining gem of what can happen around the world,” Vaughan said.

Mote Marine Laboratory’s International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration at Summerland Key includes nearly 20,000 square feet of space with expanded laboratory and classroom facilities capable of housing scientists from around the world.

“We need to show off what we’re already doing here,” Vaughan said, pointing to the 40,000 coral colonies being cultured. “The new technology lets us grow 38 coral species, many of which are being grown by no one else.”

“We used to have one 400-square-foot classroom and one 500-square-foot lab,” said Vaughan, at Summerland for 12 years. “Now we’ve got five labs that each have about 1,000 square feet.”

Thursday’s opening is invitation-only due to space constraints at the site, near mile marker 24.

Researchers from the Smithsonian, University of Richmond and other institutions are working there now. Mote bases 10 staffers at Summerland “but we often have about 40 researchers and scientists working here,” Vaughan said. “We also have nine summer camps for kids.”

Dr. Michael P. Crosby, president and chief executive of the Sarasota-based Mote, started planning an expansion of the Summerland Key facility in 2010.

“Our International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration is a major base of operations and a launching platform for global coral-reef restoration that can be achieved in a decade or two, not centuries,” Crosby said in a statement. “We envision self-sustaining ‘rainforests of the sea’ once again within our lifetime, for our children’s future and beyond.”

Demolition of the decades-old buildings at Summerland began in February 2016 but research work continued through construction.

“Mote scientists have restored more than 20,000 corals to Florida’s reefs; developed a special restoration process to speed the recovery of slow-growing coral species; [and] assessed multiple threats to corals and their interactions, including warming temperatures expected with climate change, ocean acidification and coral disease,” the organization says.

The new complex creates space for experimental systems and growth tanks that help in “studying multiple reef species facing climate-change impacts such as rising ocean temperatures and ocean acidification,” along with finding “the best genetic strains of corals for reef restoration” and organisms that help corals thrive.

The new facility also houses the Alfred Goldstein Institute for Climate Change Studies. Numerous foundations and donors helped raise money toward the Summerland center and other Mote projects.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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