Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium has announced a partnership with Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) for the new Mote Science Education Aquarium (Mote SEA) at Nathan Benderson Park. Through FPL’s NextEra Energy Foundation, the company has committed $300,000 to Mote SEA to sponsor the planned Eastern indigo snake and gopher tortoise exhibit, which will highlight the importance of these protected species to Florida’s ecosystems.
Gopher tortoises and eastern indigo snakes are both critical species throughout the southeast United States, including Florida. More than 350 species utilize the burrows created by gopher tortoises, including the eastern indigo snake, and the Mote SEA habitat will showcase this cohabitation, called commensalism. With the number of animals that depend on these burrows for survival, gopher tortoises are considered a keystone species, and protecting them in turn protects the animals that depend on them. The exhibit at Mote SEA will serve to educate visitors on the threats facing these two protected species, which mainly include habitat loss and degradation.
A groundbreaking ceremony was hosted in Nov. 2020 to celebrate the beginning of construction for Mote SEA. Currently in the first phase, a new parking lot and other site work have been completed.