Ocean Fest informs, excites

Ocean Fest informs, excites - A group of people sitting in the grass - Car
Kee Blight, marine biologist at Aquarium Encounters, shows off a baby alligator to Jackson as he sits in the stroller. Also pictured is Jackson’s father Zach Jones. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

An inaugural festival educated and entertained the many who came out Saturday for Mote’s Ocean Fest: A Community Celebration at Founders Park. 

The day featured a host of vendors from nonprofits to food and drinks as well as a scavenger hunt, music by four bands and a live painting by Pasta Pantaleo. The festival showcased the treasured marine environment while raising awareness for coral reef research and restoration. 

Festivalgoers had the opportunity to explore conservation environmental exhibits, meet live animals, experience touch tanks and more. Children had the opportunity to practice their casting and climb a rock wall. 

Dr. Michael Crosby, Mote president and CEO, said Ocean Fest’s gathers the community and organizations that are working in the environment to emphasize how critical the coral reef is to the Keys. 

“The Florida Keys are literally built on coral reefs. We’ve got a very unique culture here, an economy and a way of life that is all dependent on a healthy coral reef,” Crosby said. “Unfortunately, our coral reefs are in a significant state of decline from increasing temperature to coral disease that’s spreading like wildfire through the Keys.”

Crosby said the disease has an 80 percent mortality rate and is on the verge of wiping out the last vestiges of coral reefs – pushing them into functional extinction. Crosby said Ocean Fest is trying to raise awareness of the problem and the innovative science and technology developments to combat it. 

“Mote Marine Lab and our colleagues have been able to develop the methods and the techs to very rapidly restore these coral reefs through a replanting of native coral species that we have identified the resilient strains to the diseases, to increase temp, to acidification. What we are planting out there with the community will be here 100 and 200 years, and we’ll bring back the vitality and health of our coral reef ecosystem together.”

At Mote Marine Laboratory, there are 1,712 volunteers who are involved in every aspect of what the organization does. Crosby said they couldn’t do it by themselves. 

“We do need citizens, local volunteer citizen scientists to be directly engaged to help us monitor the status but also in helping to actually restore these coral reefs,” he said. “We cannot do it by ourselves. The community has to get engaged in this. Their support is vital to the success of this effort.”

Visit mote.org for information. 

Emily Kovacs, History of Diving Museum’s community outreach coordinator, speaks with festivalgoers. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly
Kinsey, left, practices casting with her mother Melissa while Kaylee, right, also throws a cast during Mote Ocean Fest. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly
Mote staff prepare prizes for scavenger hunters. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly
Two young explorers get a close look at some of the turtles brought by Aquarium Encounters. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly


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.