Newsday@Mote: 4-2-15; Mote rescues leatherback sea turtle; Mote researcher receives international award; Ocean Festival Saturday in the Keys

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Newsday@Mote: 4-2-15
Mote rescues leatherback sea turtle off Lido Key
Mote Marine Laboratory staff rescue a leatherback sea turtle entangled in a crab pot on April 1 offshore of Lido Key in Sarasota County.

Mote Marine Laboratory staff freed a leatherback sea turtle entangled in a crab pot off Lido Key yesterday, April 1, lending a helping hand to Earth’s largest sea turtle species.

Local fishing guide Capt. Brian Martell reported the turtle to Mote’s Marine Operations staff, who oversee the Lab’s research vessels. They alerted Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program — the 24 hour response service for distressed and dead marine mammals and sea turtles in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Staff from both programs set out to help the turtle

Aboard the Lab’s R/V William R. Mote, they traveled swiftly to the stranding site two miles off Lido Key and saw how serious the entanglement was.

“It was so important that this animal was reported to us,” said Gretchen Lovewell, manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program. “If someone had just cut the line between the turtle and the crab pot, the turtle would’ve died. The line was around its neck, its front and rear flippers, the tip of its shell and its tail. It was a juvenile animal, so it would have grown and the line would have become tighter and tighter.”

The team used a circular, floating, research net-pen to cradle the leatherback, which was a juvenile but still massive. They carefully stabilized the turtle, examined the extent of the entanglement and then cut the lines to free it completely. After briefly assessing its health and taking measurements, the team released the turtle.

“Everyone worked together and it was an awesome team effort,” Lovewell said. “It was a special rescue for me because, in 16 years of doing this kind of work, this was the first time I got to help rescue a leatherback.”

Leatherback sea turtles are an endangered species found mainly in the tropical and temperate Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. In Florida, leatherbacks mainly nest on the Atlantic coast but also inhabit the Gulf of Mexico.

Including Wednesday’s turtle, Mote has documented 11 reports of leatherbacks entangled in crab pots since 2003.

Yesterday’s rescue benefited greatly from the R/V William R. Mote, a 39-foot vessel that can travel 54 miles-per-hour and has a 600-mile range. The vessel, named after major benefactor William R. Mote, was donated by Wylie Nagler, owner of Yellowfin Yachts.

“Mr. Nagler and the entire Yellowfin crew worked with Mote’s Marine Operations Division to custom design and build what we consider the best research platform for our scientists working in the Gulf of Mexico, and it is ideal for responding quickly to a large animal offshore like this turtle,” said Capt. Dean Dougherty of Mote. “The vessel has a custom-built tower that optimizes visibility, a crane for scientific equipment deployment and retrieval, and oversized dive doors that facilitate working with large marine animals in and out of the water.”

Report marine animal strandings:

If you see a stranded, injured or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle in Sarasota or Manatee County waters, please contact the 24-hour pager for Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program at 941-988-0212.
If you see a stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters or a stranded or dead sea turtle, dolphin or whale outside of Sarasota and Manatee counties, please call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 1 (888) 404-FWCC (3922).

Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital and Dolphin and Whale Hospital have responded to more than 1,300 sea turtles and more than 675 dolphin and whale strandings of 25 species.

You can donate to support these efforts by visiting

Mote researcher receives international award for young scientists
Dr. Erinn Muller, Staff Scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory, recently received the 2015 Young Scientist Award from the International Society for Reef Studies for her research with corals. Above, Muller samples from coral in the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Credit: James Herlan)

Mote Marine Laboratory staff scientist Dr. Erinn Muller recently received the 2015 Young Scientist Award from the International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS) — a prestigious honor highlighting her exemplary research publications on coral health and disease.

ISRS brings together coral reef researchers and managers from around the globe, helping them advance reef research and share knowledge. ISRS publishes the scientific journal Coral Reefs, holds an international symposium every four years, provides awards and scholarships for distinguished reef scientists and more.

The annual Young Scientist award recognizes exceptional published research by a scientist younger than 35 who received their doctorate within the past six years and has been a current member of ISRS for at least five of the last 10 years.

“I am incredibly honored to receive the ISRS Young Scientist Award,” Muller said. “This recognition highlights the impact of my research and is also a testament to my wonderful and distinguished mentors. I would not be where I am today without their support. I will continue conducting research with impact, and I hope to carry on the legacy of my mentors and represent ISRS well.”

“Erinn is truly an outstanding scientist who has published a series of significant discoveries,” said Dr. Michael P. Crosby, President & CEO of Mote. “Her work has contributed greatly to our understanding of coral reefs amid the growing threats of climate change, ocean acidification and disease. She exemplifies the next generation of marine researchers that Mote is working hard to foster and support.”

Muller, who earned her Ph.D. four years ago, has published peer-reviewed papers in 17 international journals. Some of her work has been cited in other scientific publications over 100 times. Some of her best-known research focuses on the relationship between water temperatures and coral disease, particularly in threatened elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata). Her study published in 2008 demonstrated for the first time that elkhorn corals had more outbreaks of white pox disease during heat stress. The corals that bleached became likelier to die from the disease.

“The manuscript was a real breakthrough,” said Dr. Robert van Woesik, Muller’s graduate advisor at Florida Institute of Technology. Later, a 2014 report of research led by Muller demonstrated for the first time that white pox was likelier to affect elkhorn corals not only if waters warmed, but also if the coral colonies were larger or more genetically susceptible.

Van Woesik saw Muller’s potential during her first verbal presentation in an undergraduate class. “I spoke with her afterwards and said that if she continues to advance the rate I had witnessed, then one day, she will be able to present at an international conference,” he said. In 2004, his prediction came true: She presented her research on coral disease at the 10th International Coral Reef Symposium in Japan. She continues to study and present findings abroad.

Muller carried out many of her field studies on coral disease and temperature between 2004 and 2007 at the U.S. Geological Survey Caribbean Field Station in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Muller was hired by Dr. Caroline S. Rogers, who later nominated Muller for the ISRS Young Scientist Award, saying: “She could not be more deserving of this ISRS award.”

Muller came to Mote in 2012 when she received a Mote Postdoctoral Research Fellowship designed to help support the work of exemplary scientists who recently earned their doctorate.

“Dr. Muller has an inherent curiosity about the coral reef environment and an elegant approach to asking questions and designing experiments,” said Dr. Kim Ritchie, senior scientist at Mote, who mentored Muller’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship through its completion in 2014. Muller shares her passion for science by mentoring Mote interns and teaching undergraduates with the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. “She is a tireless, hands-on and generous teacher,” Ritchie said.

Muller plans to continue advancing coral research. For instance, she will study different genetic varieties of staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), a threatened species, to look for observable traits revealing which types are resilient amid stress. This knowledge is critical for Mote and others working to restore this species in the wild.

“Dr. Muller is a star now,” Ritchie said. “She will continue to grow and change the way we see and think about coral reefs.”

As an ISRS honoree, Muller will present an invited talk at the 2016 International Coral Reef Symposium in Hawaii. She will serve on the selection committee for future ISRS honorees.
Celebrate Oceans, Support Coral Reefs on April 4 in the Keys
Sea fans, get ready for the 6th Annual Florida Keys Ocean Festival & Waterfront Craft Show — a free day of ocean-themed education and fun from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 4, at the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, 35 East Quay Road at Truman Waterfront in Key West. (

The Festival benefits coral reef restoration and research by Mote Marine Laboratory, supporting the Lab’s Protect Our Reefs program. Any time of year, you can support coral restoration and research by Mote and others by purchasing a Protect Our Reefs license plate at

Reefs around the world face multiple threats ranging from climate change and ocean acidification to pollution and disease. To help reefs recover, Mote has been working to understand, protect and restore reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary for more than a decade through efforts based at its research facility on Summerland Key, which recently announced exciting new plans for expansion. The Ocean Festival helps support Mote’s work while bringing oceans to life for the community.

The Festival will feature more than 100 booths featuring environmental education and conservation, touch pools with live marine animals, shopping, crafts, food, local artwork and more. Visitors can enjoy music by Howard Livingston and the MM24 band, participate in a major silent auction, see marine artist Wyland paint with kids and then create paintings live for auction, enjoy a kids’ fishing seminar and get raffle tickets for a cool custom paddleboard.

In partnership with the Ocean Festival, the annual 5K Tuna Trot Race for the Reef will take place at 8 a.m. on April 4, leaving from the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. Advance registration is $25 for adults, $15 for children 12 & under, and free for children who participate with a registered adult. Price increases by $5 on race day. Learn more from the event Facebook page and click here to register.

Mote thanks the participating organizations and sponsors for this year’s Ocean Festival:

Participating organizations:
Mote Marine Lab, Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, Bahia Honda State Park, Department of Environmental Protection, Dolphin Research Center, FAVOR, FKCC Marine Sciences, Florida Keys Mosquito Control, Florida Keys National Marine Santuary TEAM OCEAN, Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge, Florida Keys SPCA, Fury Water Adventures, FWC, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, History of Diving Museum, Key West Maritime Historical Society, Keys Marine Lab, Monroe County Extension Service: Horticulture, Monroe County Extension: Marine Science, National Weather Service, Pigeon Key Foundation, Reef Relief, Save -a-Turtle, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, The Turtle Hospital, U.S. Coast Guard Auxillary, Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, SeaCamp, Scubanauts International, Key West Parrothead Club and Wyland Foundation.

NOAA, Key TV, Stock Island Marina, Monroe County Tourist Development Council, Coca-Cola, First State Bank, Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, Smokin’ Tuna Saloon, Wyland Foundation, Blue Heaven, Shark Bites at the Southernmost Point, Pier House, Tavern n Town Restaurant, U.S. Coast Guard, Keys Federal Credit Union, Lower Keys Bait & Tackle, Ocean Walk Properties, Little Palm Island, Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Keys Weekly, Galleon Resort, Okuma, Bombora Vodka, Key West Harbor Service & Tow Boat US, Reef Safe Suncare, Fury Water Adventures, Keys Energy, Ocean Key Resort – Key West, Westin Key West Resort, Centennial Bank, Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and Mote’s Protect Our Reefs Program.

Mote Rescues leatherback sea turtle
Young scientist honored for coral research
Saturday: Florida Keys Ocean Festival & Waterfront Craft Show

Founded in 1955, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)3 research organization based in Sarasota, Fla., with field stations in eastern Sarasota County, Charlotte Harbor and the Florida Keys. Mote has 24 research programs and a variety of initiatives dedicated to today’s research for tomorrow’s oceans with an emphasis on world-class research relevant to conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, healthy habitats and natural resources. Mote’s vision includes positively impacting public policy through science-based outreach and education. Showcasing this research is Mote Aquarium, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 365 days a year. Learn more at

Contact Us:
Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, Fla., 34236. 941.388.4441

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