A 30-year celebration of Mote Marine Laboratory in the Keys culminated with Monroe County Commissioner Holly Raschein presenting the Honorary Conch certificate to Michael Crosby, president and CEO for Mote Marine Laboratory on March 31. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

In the Florida Keys, scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory work to advance critical coral reef restoration in hopes of bringing back an ailing reef tract. At local schools, educators with Mote join the classroom to teach students about the research, the accomplishments and the work ahead. 

On March 31, Mote’s scientists gathered with local Keys stakeholders to celebrate 30 years of marine research on the island chain. At Ocean Reef Club, scientists discussed some of the ongoing coral restoration research, outplanting efforts off the island’s shores, expansion of nurseries in the Upper Keys and other Mote missions on red tide and seagrass. 

Michael Crosby, president and CEO of Mote, credited then-state Rep. Holly Raschein as being the “champion for coral reefs and Mote.” Crosby recalled a time several years ago when he traveled to the state’s capital to discuss the urgency surrounding the reefs and the support needed to begin the restoration. 

“She understood they were going to be extinct before our eyes. She understood that we really need to do something different,” Crosby said. “She listened to our proposal for a whole paradigm, science-based restoration and community engagement.”

Since then, the Florida Legislature has regularly contributed around $1 million for Mote’s coral restoration activities, which have resulted in 173,000-plus coral outplants restored to Florida’s coral reef. Raschein, now a Monroe County commissioner, said she couldn’t say no to Crosby’s request for support. She remembers being pulled off the House floor during the throes of discussion and debate to see Crosby.

“I remember like it was yesterday. He’s got his sandals on in the Capitol. I’m sitting there and he’s telling me these things. For me, it was an absolute no-brainer. We were studying it and we knew what the issue was, but what were we going to do about it?” she said. “Mote had the plan.”

Speaking before the audience at Ocean Reef Club, Raschein lauded Crosby’s mission and passion to restore corals and Mote’s growth with new land-based nurseries in Islamorada and Key Largo the last few years. She ended her speech by presenting Crosby the highly-coveted Honorary Conch certificate. 

“These certificates are made for people like you,” Raschein said. “It’s truly something I hope you will treasure and know what a treasure you are to us, the Keys and the entire state of Florida.”

Once a one-room lab with a shark-centric focus, the Sarasota-based Mote grew through the decades, bringing researchers and scientists together with the Keys community to confront a dying coral reef tract. With facilities at Summerland Key, Key West, Islamorada and Key Largo, Mote is primed for further expansion of its science-based coral reef restoration capacities.

Representatives for U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott presented letters to Crobsy commending Mote’s 30 years of marine research in the Keys.

Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.