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Something new to sea in Lakewood Ranch

Side of Ranch: Jay Heater

Emily Hall said her local aquarium made a huge impact on her.
Emily Hall said her local aquarium made a huge impact on her.
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I didn't grow up near an aquarium in upstate New York, although there was a swamp across the street.

Perhaps, if I had the educational opportunity, I would have developed a desire to investigate frogs, study snakes or research the effect of pesticides on fish.

Jay Heater
Jay Heater

Alas, I would have been forced to drive to New York City to see an aquarium, and my father would rather have had a toe amputated than cross the George Washington Bridge. 

I guess I am left to wonder what could have been.

Emily Hall doesn't have to wonder.

Growing up in Lakewood Ranch, her parents moved to Sarasota to be closer to the gulf when she was just starting elementary school. The move also put her closer to Mote Marine Laboratory.

"We had a sailboat," she said. "And I loved the water."

That love expanded while as a student at Riverview High School, she would visit Mote Marine.

"It was amazing for kids," she said. "Kids just don't get underwater."

I'm not going to suggest Emily wouldn't become Dr. Emily Hall without Mote Marine being in her neighborhood. But it couldn't have hurt.

On Feb. 28, Hall was the featured speaker at Mote Marine Laboratory's Tea for the Sea, which was billed as "advancing women and philanthropy in the pursuit of science."

She is now the Ocean Acidification program manager for Mote Marine and she travels the world trying to find answers to keeping our environment intact.

Having joined the Mote Chemical Ecology Program in 2005, it's no big surprise Hall doubles as a promotional speaker for the facility. What was different was where she was speaking, back in her former home at the Lakewood Ranch Country Club.

An area she left to be closer to the gulf has been graced by Mote Marine's decision to build a $130 million aquarium. It's not quite in Lakewood Ranch, but it will be across the street at Nathan Benderson Park.

Hall knows the spark the Mote Marine Laboratory gave to her, and she's trying to spread the word that students in East County will now have that benefit. They might not work at the aquarium researching the dissolution rates of clams and oyster shells at different pH levels, as Hall did as an intern at Mote Marine, but a visit might propel them to work that might help conserve our environment.

Knowing how important those educational messages can be, Hall attempted to make believers of the crowd, many of them from the Lakewood Ranch area, at the Country Club. This whole aquarium idea is new, and Hall is among those trying to get people behind it.

"I hope this will open people's eyes to conservation," she said. "We get so many things from the sea and this is about protecting our environment. I did an internship at Mote, and I came full circle and came back. I'm just here to tell my story."

With her talk done at Mote Marine, Hall hurried out the door. She had to catch a flight the next day to Saudi Arabia. She was going to spend a couple of weeks under the water doing coral research in the Gulf of Aqaba on the northern tip of the Red Sea.

Gosh I wish they had an aquarium on that swamp.


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