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Longboat Key Sunday, Apr. 14, 2019 3 months ago

My View: Why we need Mote's new aquarium

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Mote’s proposed Science Education Aquarium in Benderson Park will further the region as a leading center for marine science, education and discoveries.
by: Guest Writer

Some residents and visitors have asked whether the creation of the Mote Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA) — a rebirth of the Mote Aquarium being planned in Nathan Benderson Park — is a financially worthwhile step for Southwest Florida. 

We think it is, and after reviewing the facts, we believe you will, too.

With Mote Marine Laboratory more than 60 years strong, and its public aquarium nearing its 40th birthday, the team members at Mote proudly say they have served generations of local families and tourists from around the world.

According to Mote’s records, the Mote Aquarium has generated positive cash flow since it opened in 1980. Those funds in turn have  helped provide the laboratory with funding to achieve so much for our waters and marine wildlife.

Records also show 350,000 people visit Mote each year. Independent data projections suggest that number will double to nearly 700,000 at the new site. In fact, this data projects that Mote’s SEA will generate tourism-related annual revenue of $28 million per year (real money that will stay in our region year after year).

More than 3.16 million people live within an hour’s drive from the proposed site (as compared to 1.38 million at Mote’s current location), giving them easier access to the new venue than available at the facility on City Island. 

While tourists may choose to visit because of the 1 million gallons of amazing marine life displays from around the world, we believe they will leave with something even more inspiring: a new appreciation for Mote’s world-class scientific contributions to marine science and ocean ecosystems.

We were particularly excited to learn that Mote SEA will have three state-of-the-art STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teaching labs and will offer educational programming to some 68,000 students from Sarasota, Manatee and surrounding counties free of charge. This STEM education component of Mote’s SEA represents an annual cost of more than $3 million and signifies a tremendous value-added component of Mote’s SEA, making our communities and our quality of life that much more attractive

There is, of course, the initial investment needed to launch this game-changing project. We emphasize “initial,” because Mote is raising funds for the one-time creation, not annual operations, of Mote SEA.

While Mote SEA’s $130 million campaign may sound ambitious to some, we note that more than $30 million already has been committed by visionary philanthropic leaders in our region. This speaks volumes of the philanthropic community’s belief in this project.

Mote is also working with corporations to secure sponsorships and contributions. Mote is also requesting local and state governments to recognize what the philanthropic and corporate communities already know: This project is too important an economic opportunity to pass up. The projected economic impacts — $280 million from construction alone and $28 million per year from tourist-related operations — will quickly surpass the cost of a one-time investment by any single entity.

What is truly special about Mote SEA is that independent and objective science is its core mission. Mote research productivity was ranked No. 1 for all non-profits and No. 2 for all institutions accredited by Association of Zoos and Aquariums — second only to the Smithsonian Institution.

So why the need to relocate the present aquarium? Simply put, Mote’s growing scientific research on City Island has run out of space. 

This inability to expand directly impacts Mote’s efforts to become the catalyst for development of a Silicon Valley of marine science and technology in our region. 

Mote works around the world to save coral reefs, develop new sustainable seafood farming technologies, address the impacts of red tide, innovate advanced-technology underwater sensors and derive new drugs from the sea. In turn, it brings all that knowledge back to Southwest Florida. 

Our region is revered for its assets: our beaches and bays, the cultural arts, ballparks and other sports venues, wonderful green spaces and exceptional educational institutions. It is without question that Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is one of the primary, defining, homegrown institutions that serves to make our region unique. 

We believe Mote’s Science Education Aquarium will draw more tourists and visitors to this area and provide the opportunity to highlight all our assets to the rest of the world. We enthusiastically embrace the Mote SEA vision and encourage others to do so as well.

 

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