Making Waves

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Mote’s Leadership Circle Helps Spur Positive Change

Philanthropic giving often arises from altruism, the desire to enhance the welfare of others, and that noble goal is matched by philanthropy’s ability to demonstrate the collective power of working together to achieve real-world change for the better. Nowhere has that been more evident than with the phenomenal success of Mote Marine Laboratory’s $50 million fundraising campaign, Oceans of Opportunity, which soared beyond that lofty goal in less than a year to raise an eye-popping $51,736,582.

Now, with funding secured through monies raised and with future pledges, Mote has the foundation to achieve the objectives outlined in its 2020 Vision and Strategic Plan and to enlarge its vision for the future. Just as with the 2020 plan, Mote is thinking big, and the bold plans that are being created will impact the local area.

For Oceans of Opportunity, every donation, quite literally, was vital to the campaign’s success, from people who rounded up the cost of their Aquarium admission by a few cents to help fund the campaign to the 11 donors who led the way with significant contributions of $1 million or more. Those donors, members of Mote’s Leadership Circle, include five anonymous benefactors along with Carol and Barney Barnett, the Rick and Nancy Moskovitz Foundation, Elizabeth Moore, James and Pati Ericson, Robert and Anne Essner, and Maurice and Carolyn Cunniffe.

“I am continually amazed and humbled by the generosity of the community,” says Bob Essner, Chair of the Oceans of Opportunity campaign and Leadership Circle member. “Through this campaign Mote received support from all over the country and internationally from a wide variety of donors. I don’t only think of this as a financial success, but as a huge success in connecting our local community with others around the world who all believe in one goal: to save our oceans. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for allowing us to incite change. It would not have been possible without each and every one of you, and I really mean that.”
Essner got interested in Mote’s mission about seven years ago. A friend was involved with Mote’s aquaculture effort and asked him to help look for ways to improve its caviar business. Likewise, the Barnetts became engaged by Mote’s fisheries programs. They donated $3 million to help Mote launch a major Fisheries Conservation and Enhancement Initiative, which is focused on tagging and releasing thousands of snook raised in its land-based recirculating aquaculture systems to replenish wild snook populations. Tracking the fish will help determine their preferred habitats, which in turn will help resource managers work to support those fish through habitat improvements.

“We are very interested in everything that impacts the marine world and all of the research Mote conducts. In particular, we’re interested in what they’re doing to improve the fisheries not only here in Sarasota, but around the world,” says Barney Barnett. “We support organizations that incorporate children and our oceans because our environment is very important to kids, and we want to keep this water in a way that our grandkids will be able to enjoy it.”

Another crucial project with the potential to have global impact on ocean fisheries is the Mote Tropical Research Lab on Summerland Key in the Florida Keys. Scientists there have made significant breakthroughs that could restore precious coral reefs. The reefs are dying due to rising water temperatures and increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide that raises acidity levels as it is absorbed into ocean waters. Loss of the reefs, which provide food, breeding grounds and shelter for many species, would lead to a collapse in many of the world’s fisheries.

Elizabeth Moore, who is a leadership donor for the new research facility to replace the existing 45-year-old structure, gave $1 million to further this crucial research. Mote scientists have discovered a micro-fragmentation and re-skinning process that allows coral to grow 25 to 40 times faster than previous methods, giving real hope of restoring slow-growing reef building corals and finding new ways to deal with the challenges of oceans that will continue to warm and become increasingly acidic. The new LEED-certified building will more than double Mote’s research and education space.

“We are all connected to the ocean, and I am a firm believer that we must be good stewards of our Earth and our oceans, which are one of our most precious resources,” says Moore, who is a Mote trustee. “Seeing the work done at Mote reminds me that it is our responsibility to share the world and protect its many species and resources, especially one that we all depend on for every other breath we take. I’m fortunate to be able to take action that will make an impact for future generations.”

While some donations were earmarked for specific projects, most were dedicated more generally for application to Mote’s 2020 Vision and Strategic Plan and to support new and promising research that may emerge in the future. Other current research efforts encompass life-saving drugs from the sea, which includes the search for new antibiotics that may help address superbugs that are resistant to today’s antibiotics. Mote research also includes development of potential new therapies to fight 15 types of cancer. Continued support and enhancement of its education and outreach efforts aimed at increasing ocean literacy remains an important initiative. Goals also include spurring long-term growth in its endowment to ensure a sustainable future for Mote.

Looking beyond the 2020 plan, Mote has an even greater vision for its City Island campus in Sarasota. “Now that Mote is able to advance its research enterprise, we will be looking at how we can accommodate such growth,” says Dr. Michael Crosby, Mote President and CEO. “Our vision for the future includes the evolution of this Sarasota campus into an international marine science, technology and innovation park that will bring together Mote scientists with other researchers and entrepreneurs from around the world.”

Mote’s leadership is envisioning something like a Silicon Valley for marine sciences. The objective is to drive long-term sustainability of the ocean biome and to fuel the expansion of this region’s blue economy, Crosby says. To achieve that, Mote will need a new, sixth campus on the mainland on which to build an informal marine science education center and aquarium to share Mote research and reach more people to enhance ocean literacy. Key to the success of this endeavor will be the generosity of Mote’s many supporters whose contributions will propel the vision toward reality.

If the success of Mote’s $50 million Oceans of Opportunity campaign is any indication, there is cause for optimism in continuing progress toward its future vision. Mote’s initiatives resonated with more than 24,000 donors worldwide, many of whom were from within the local community and the region. “Mote would not be the outstanding world-class, independent marine research institution it is today without the incredible support of our community,” Crosby says. “We are overwhelmed with gratitude and sincerely want to thank everyone who has helped propel Mote forward by contributing to the Oceans of Opportunity campaign. Their support is making all of this possible and creating a better environment today and for future generations to come.”

If you would like to learn more about Mote Marine Laboratory and the Oceans of Opportunity campaign, please call 941.388.4441 or visit

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