The Mote-Boca Grande Partnership

Illustration by Diane Peebles.
TarponSnook Stock Enhancement Red Tide Sharks Visit our Boca Grande Office
Boca Grande is the historical site of the tarpon fishery, the center of tarpon reproduction, and a way-station for tarpon that make up the fishery for much of the region. Charlotte Harbor is also Mote Marine Laboratory’s historical home. When Mote opened its doors in 1955 as the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory, it was based in nearby Placida.

In January 2013, Mote’s regional presence will grow as it opens a new satellite office in Boca Grande to help engage the community and region in tarpon and other marine research undertaken by Mote in Charlotte Harbor and Southwest Florida. It will also highlight new research directions designed to support conservation of area fisheries and habitat.

The office is being opened under the auspices of a community-wide grassroots committee to increase knowledge of — and support for — the region’s important marine environment and the conservation of it. The effort is being spearheaded by Boca Grande residents Andy Ireland, an honorary Mote trustee, and Capt. Philip O’Bannon, who will be Director of the new Mote-Boca Grande Partnership.

Work is already under way to expand Mote’s Beach Conditions Report — which provides the public with information about whether beaches are affected by red tide an other environmental conditions — to two sites on the Island thanks to an anonymous donation.

“A lot of people think that scientific knowledge flows only one way: From scientists to the community,” said Dr. Michael Crosby, Senior Vice President for Research at Mote Marine Laboratory. “But over Mote’s nearly 60-year history, we’ve shown that isn’t true. As an independent organization not tied to government or a university, we’ve always depended on strong ties to the communities that we work in. We’ve often found that we have as much to learn from local residents as we can share.

“This is an exciting partnership that we are embarking on — together.”

The new office of the Mote-Boca Grande Partnership will be located in Railroad Plaza. It is designed to be a focal point and resource where residents and visitors can learn more about local tarpon, snook, shark and red tide research programs under way now. With it will come a series of regular lectures on relevant marine science topics, other programs of interest in the community and updates on Mote’s worldwide activities.

Charlotte Harbor is one of Florida’s — and even the nation’s — few remaining healthy estuaries. While there has been degradation over time with increased habitat destruction and other environmental changes, strong science-based conservation programs will play a critical role in preventing further degradation and in keeping the local fisheries healthy.

“This is the world’s tarpon fishing capital and it’s also a pretty important place for snook and other gamefish,” said Boca Grande resident and former U.S. Representative, Andy Ireland, who is an honorary Mote Marine Laboratory trustee. “This fishery alone is worth millions of dollars to the region’s economy, but more importantly, it’s an invaluable part of the fabric of our community.”

The privilege of living in the Tarpon Capital of the World also comes with a responsibility, he said. “We need to be good stewards of our marine environment. To have good stewardship of a resource, you need to have the participation of knowledgeable residents. We hope the creation of this new satellite office will help bring that about.”

The Initiatives
The magnificent tarpon fishery of Boca Grande is possible because tarpon use Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor as a gathering place during spawning season. Tens of thousands of tarpon gather in the pass annually as part of a pre-spawning aggregation. Near the full and new moons of late May through early July, groups of tarpon leave the Pass and migrate offshore to spawn (exactly where they spawn, we don’t yet know).Mote is already working with the state of Florida to track tarpon in the wild using DNA samples collected by anglers. Our studies also include tagging tarpon with satellite transmitters to determine their movement patterns.

Now, Mote is proposing the first-ever, large-scale acoustic tagging project of adult tarpon. This groundbreaking initiative — including partnership with local fishing guides and anglers — will determine the movements of tarpon.

  • An array of 100 receivers will be placed in multiple habitats in and around Charlotte Harbor, including the passes, along beaches, rivers and within the estuary and will record movements of each fish. The information will be used to understand tarpon habitat use and how tarpon respond to changes in fishing pressure and river flow. The receivers will also tell us whether tarpon return to Boca Grande Pass after spawning offshore and whether they return year after year.
Our tagging approach will also tell us how tarpon are responding to stressors and allow us to track the movement of tarpon beyond Charlotte Harbor and into the Gulf of Mexico and Southeastern U.S. coast thanks to similar underwater arrays in other locations.

Our studies have already shown that snook return to the same beaches to spawn annually and that individual juvenile snook find a single mangrove creek and live out the first year of their lives in it.

This level of fidelity to single locations creates challenges for conservation — if a specific juvenile or spawning habitat location is damaged, what will happen to the broader population?

This suggests that successful management of snook in Charlotte Harbor must come from managing the estuary’s snook population, rather than addressing management on a wider, regional scale.

Unfortunately, not enough is known about the Boca Grande-Charlotte Harbor snook population to make informed decisions on the best management plan for the long-term sustainability of the Charlotte Harbor population. Snook studies will include
  • Acoustic tagging
  • Genetic tracking
  • Otolith chemistry
Stock enhancement of snook and tarpon
Nowhere in the world is saltwater sport fishing a more important cultural and recreational pastime — as well as a critical part of our regional economy — than in our own state of Florida.

Florida saltwater fishing brings an astonishing $5.1 billion annually to our state’s economy. While visitors may see a bountiful catch, local communities and experienced Florida anglers know that fishing here now is not what it once was.

Because snook and tarpon have similar life histories as juveniles, we propose a two-pronged Initiative that combines aquaculture-based stock enhancement of wild populations and the restoration of critical habitats to ensure the long-term viability of both species in the Boca Grande-Charlotte Harbor region.
  • Successes in snook aquaculture have been achieved at Mote Aquaculture Park. These accomplishments are the basis for an expanded aquaculture technology initiative to speed up development of snook mass production technology for stock enhancement. For Tarpon, however, much better understanding and development of larval foods is required and is likely many years away. We propose to rapidly advance culture technology needed to mass produce snook for stock enhancement of the Boca Grande-Charlotte Harbor region and implement a new tarpon aquaculture research program at Mote Aquaculture Park.
  • In addition, Mote proposes to survey the Charlotte Harbor region to identify critical habitats for juvenile tarpon and snook, determine which of these locations are protected, which need protection and which require restoration and then design and conduct the restoration projects.

Mote scientists will work with local recreational anglers and resource management agencies to identify and map these areas and, once identified, locations will be sampled to estimate abundance, growth and survival. Locations identified as healthy habitats will be targeted for protection.

Red tide
Florida red tides are caused by a single-celled organism called a dinoflagellate. Its species name is Karenia brevis and it occurs naturally throughout the Gulf, but causes problems when the population of cells increases dramatically — what’s known as a red tide bloom. Red tide blooms can produce potent toxins that affect humans and animals.

Mote has created the Sarasota Operations of the Coastal Ocean Observation Laboratories (SO COOL). This Operation is part of a nationwide network of ocean observatories that provide real-time information about coastal marine conditions to a variety of stakeholders.

Bringing SO COOL to bear in Boca Grande would give local residents and tourists web-based daily updates on environmental conditions, including red tide and any respiratory irritation it is causing, as well as fish kills and other impacts on the beaches.

SO COOL has two primary components:
  • The Mote Beach Conditions Report™ System covers 26 beaches along Florida’s Gulf Coast from the Panhandle south to Lee County. Reports are provided by specially trained and equipped volunteer observers and updated twice daily (at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.), 365 days a year.
  • Mote has also designed a special scientific instrument that can continuously monitor water for red tide. These special instruments are placed in underwater robots that are then sent to patrol the Gulf for red tide.

We envision adding Beach Conditions Reports from both the north and south ends of Boca Grande. We would also propose five missions of three weeks each for our underwater robots to patrol Boca Grande’s coastal waters.

Mote has a long history of shark research in the region but far more can be done. Mote proposes an intensive new initiative in research on the sharks of Boca Grande, building upon the Lab’s established bedrock of expertise, and composed of the following facets:
  • Conventional, acoustic and satellite tagging of bull sharks and great hammerheads in Boca Grande Pass, to understand their short and long-term movements and behavior.
  • Abundance surveys of keystone species of sharks in the Pass and adjacent areas, to quantify the number, size, sex and seasonality of the large shark population.
  • Studies of the fine-scale behavior of the sharks of the Pass, using advanced technology called data loggers that are temporarily attached to the sharks. These devices use accelerometers to record the exact movements of the sharks millisecond-by-millisecond, and with that information we can understand how they move inside the Pass, how they hunt for tarpon and other prey, their energy requirements and even such behaviors as mating and courtship. It also reveals how sharks behave after they are caught and released, which provides vital data for managing shark populations.

Visit Our Boca Grande Office

You can learn more about Mote's current and proposed research initiatives in Charlotte Harbor by visiting our satellite office located on Boca Grande at 480 East Railroad Ave., Railroad Plaza, Boca Grande.

Office hours vary according to the season. The January 2014 office hours are:

  • 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays
  • 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays
  • 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays


About Us

Mote Marine Laboratory has been a leader in marine research since it was founded in 1955. Today, we incorporate public outreach as a key part of our mission. Mote is an independent nonprofit organization and has seven centers for marine research, the public Mote Aquarium and an Education Division specializing in public programs for all ages.

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