Mote Marine Laboratory's wildlife responders are getting state financial help to deal with this summer's bloom of red tide in the Gulf of Mexico.
On Aug. 13, $100,000 was directed to Mote through Gov. Rick Scott's emergency declaration. The emergency funding will help Mote wildlife responders with recovering and rescuing marine animals possibly affected by red tide, a statement from Mote said.
The order also directed $500,000 to Visit Florida for its emergency grant program to aid the state’s tourism economy. Lee County red tide clean-up efforts also received funding to aid in cleanup, Mote’s statement said.
With this state funding, Mote plans to add one more full-time staff member to its Stranding Investigations Program, growing the team to three full-time staff members, one part-time employee and volunteers. The funding will allow the new full-time staff member to help for the duration of the red tide bloom, Mote’s statement said, while also boosting the budget for supplies.
Gretchen Lovewell, manager of the Stranding Investigations Program, said in the statement that in a typical year, the program might receive a few calls a day about distressed or dead animals. However, in the past couple weeks, the program has received between 17 and 20 calls a day.
Lovewell continued in the statement saying that the program has had help from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, University of Florida, Clearwater Aquarium, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program and local law enforcement, but it’s the staff at Mote that has to be ready to provide first response aid to the animals.
“... Part of this emergency support will allow Mote's Stranding Investigation Program to respond to a significant increase in reports of sick and dead sea turtles, manatees and dolphins,” Michael Crosby, Mote President and CEO said in the statement. “Mote staff have: recovered or rescued more than 165 sea turtles since the start of 2018; recovered 12 deceased bottlenose dolphins between August 7 and 13; recovered two large manatee carcasses on August 4 and 6 for our partners at FWC; and we continue to be ready to respond around the clock while also working tirelessly to learn all we can from these recovered marine animals.”
In addition to helping with staffing, the state funding will help Mote scientists assess the status of the common snook, which lately has been reported washing ashore.