Hot Florida summers make those Gulf waters seem so enticing, but do you ever wonder what’s going on beneath the surface? A trip to the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Ken Thompson Park can quench that curiosity for you: all of the marine life featured in the 10.5-acre aquarium is local to Florida beaches. In case you didn’t know about this treasure trove of aquatic education, we took a two-hour tour to learn what’s going on at Mote.
When school is out, Mote invites kids to join weekly ocean-themed camps to discover the wonders of marine animals and environments and gain some skill in STEM education. Opportunities abound for children anywhere from age 2 (consider the Mommy & Me: Aquatic Appetites or Underwater Tool Time programs) through high school seniors, who can take overnight trips to the Florida Keys to explore the different marine life found there. (Information about summer camps available here.)
College students and adults are invited to participate in Mote’s internship and volunteer programs. Virginia Woo of the University of Calgary signed up for a three-month internship. “It’s gratifying to see animals kept in captivity so happy,” she says as she watches Hang Tough, a 30-year-old Loggerhead sea turtle. Hang Tough received a head injury in 1992 that left her blind. Interestingly, all this time the staff believed Hang Tough was a male; turns out, she just reached sexual maturity and surprised everyone during a physical examination this week. Interns help staff create and implement enrichment activities to keep the animals engaged: “I feel responsible [for their happiness] while they’re in captivity,” Woo adds. (Information about year-round internship opportunities available here.)
We also chatted with Don Marshall, who has been volunteering at the aquarium for more than 20 years. We found him near Contact Cove, a hands-on exhibit where you can touch sea urchins, horseshoe crabs, and Marshall’s favorite: sea cucumbers. Mote currently has nearly 1,700 volunteers who contribute more than 212,000 hours of service every year. The aquarium relies on these volunteers to help spread knowledge of the marine life featured in the tanks. (Information about volunteering opportunities available here.)
And if you're just looking for a day excursion? In addition to all there is to see in its main campus, Mote’s current popular exhibition is Oh Baby! Life Cycles of the Sea located near the sea turtle and manatee exhibit. The family-friendly educational exhibit explores ocean animal “romance” and the babies of many different species—seahorses, pipefish, garden eels, jellyfish and sharks to name a few. The exhibit will be on display through Sept. 27.
Take a virtual tour with the slideshow below. Mote is open seven days a week, 365 days a year--visit any time!
For more about Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, visit mote.org.