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Mote Marine Aquarium Happenings

July 24, 2009

mote-aquariumRare Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle at Mote for Rehab After Swallowing Balloon

An endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) has been brought to Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital after it swallowed a balloon — an episode that we hope will remind residents and visitors to stow their trash carefully.

The 3.3-pound young turtle washed up on a sandbar near the south end of Lido Key on Tuesday, July 14, with what appeared to be fishing line hanging from its mouth. Concerned swimmers called Mote biologists, who brought the Kemp’s ridley to Mote’s Sea Turtle Hospital.

Before removing the pink line, which had scraped skin from the turtle’s face, Mote staff used radiographs to verify that the turtle had not swallowed a fishing hook. Instead, they found remnants of a black balloon.


“Balloons can look like jellyfish or squid — things sea turtles like to eat,” said Senior Biologist Kristen Mazzarella of Mote’s Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program. “It’s extremely common to find sea turtles that have swallowed balloons, fishing hooks, monofilament lines and other dangerous objects.”

Swallowing trash can injure or kill sea turtles, all of which are considered endangered or threatened. Kemp’s ridleys, among the smallest and the rarest of the world’s seven sea turtle species, have visited Sarasota County only a handful of times to nest, but Mote’s Sea turtle hospital has rehabilitated dozens because of illness, disorientation and other problems.

Mote’s new Kemp’s ridley patient, nicknamed Anakin, is receiving fluids, antibiotics and food at the Sea Turtle Hospital. The turtle, which arrived anemic and dehydrated, is being closely monitored for any additional health problems. It will be released into wild if appropriate.

Anakin is Mote’s first turtle with a bellyful of balloon, but perhaps not the last.

“We pick up a lot of balloons wrapped in seaweed from local beaches,” said Mazzarella of Mote’s Sea Turtle Patrol — a team of staff, interns and volunteers who monitor sea turtle nesting every day on 35 miles of Sarasota county beaches during nesting season, May through October. “To protect sea turtles and other wildlife, we recommend that people dispose of trash in the appropriate containers and recycle it when possible. If you see trash washing up on the beach, pick it up before the tide takes it back out to sea.”

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

Turtle populations have been on the decline for years, highlighting the need for conservation and research programs, and for us to rehabilitate turtles when they become ill. Please don’t hide inside your shell.

Donate to the Sea Turtle Hospital


Donate to the Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program


Divers Show Reefs a Little Love

More than 80 divers — including famous Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry — helped beautify Sarasota-area artificial reefs by participating in the SunCoast Reef Cleanup on July 11. The Cleanup was organized to pick up underwater trash and improve ocean habitats.

Divers collected everything from monofilament fishing line to crates and even a volleyball net from local artificial reefs, including Lynn Silvertooth and M1 through M8. Many divers headed offshore on boats, but a fair number also participated in a shore dive from Lido Beach.

The event was organized by local divers Mark Rush, who owns and operates AquaRush Diving, and Divemaster Bob Daidone. They donated the proceeds from the event to Mote’s Center for Coral Reef Research. The Center conducts and supports reef-related research and outreach, including new methods to restore reefs.

After the event, participants were treated to an after party and awards ceremony at Mote’s Chickee Hut, where divers kicked back and enjoyed food catered by Oasis Café and music from WSLR Radio.

Joe Perry, lead guitarist for Aerosmith, and his wife, Billie, joined in the event after the Aerosmith’s planned Saturday-night concert in Tampa was cancelled. Both have a life-long interest in diving and were happy to join in the cleanup and meet the fans. Perry signed autographs on everything from CDs to a guitar. After the Cleanup, Perry even tweeted about the event: “Mote Marine Labs n Aquarium awesome,” he wrote.

Now that’s what we call a rockin’ dive!


Speaking of Coral Reefs…

If you’re heading down to the Florida Keys for a late summer getaway, don’t forget to check out the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center and take advantage of a very special offer from The Fury Watersports, which offers all kinds of on-water adventures.

Through Mote’s Ebay store, The Fury is offering $30 off its regular prices for all-day water adventures that include jet skiing, snorkeling, parasailing, kayaking and more. The special offer includes six hours of fun with breakfast, lunch, snacks and sodas.

Other discounted offers from The Fury Watersports include discount rates for sunset sails and sunset sail and snorkel packages.
The best part? Doing something fun also means doing something good for coral reef research: 50 percent of the proceeds from each package will be donated directly to Mote.

Click here to go to Mote’s Ebay store.

NEW: Birthday Parties at Mote!

b-day-partyMote Aquarium is the place for sea animals — and now party animals too! We’re now hosting children’s birthdays at our Chickee Hut, a traditional outdoor Seminole shelter on Sarasota Bay that accommodates up to 40 guests. Groups can party for two hours and then enjoy a self-guided tour of Mote Aquarium, home to more than 100 species of marine life.

Party plans are up to you — make it totally your own or add Mote’s special activities, games and food. Our Basic Birthday Package for 15 children and adults is $300 ($275 for Mote Members). Each additional child or adult is $17 ($14 for Members).

For the Party, Mote Aquarium will provide:

  • Two-hour use of the Chickee
  • Juice drinks and/or soda
  • Paper goods from recyclable materials
  • Downloadable online party invitation with map
  • Mote temporary tattoo for each child
  • Aquarium admission for all party guests and chaperones
  • A Mote party host certified in CPR and first-aid

You can add lunch, birthday cake and other treats, along with activities like treasure and scavenger hunts, crafts and unique ocean-themed games — we’re not talking Go Fish.

Parties are available for children ages 3 and older. (One adult chaperone for every five children ages 3 to 9 is required; for children ages 10 and older, two adults for the first 10 children, plus one adult for each additional 10 children is required.)
Parties are available from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

For more information on specific activities and pricing, go to, call 941-388-4441, ext. 536, or e-mail

Are you wearing yours?

We think that anytime is the right time to Protect Our Reefs, but Florida drivers and boat trailer owners who haven’t gotten their Protect Our Reefs license plate yet might want to consider a purchase now.

Starting Sept. 1, 2009, state fees for all license plates will increase. The annual state fee will increase to $5 (from $2) and the cost of purchasing a new plate will go to $28 (from $12).

The annual tax deductible portion of the fee will remain $25. The $25 that comes to Mote supports research, education and conservation efforts.

Drivers may renew their auto registration within three months of their birthdays, and can purchase a specialty license plate during any renewal. For additional information about other fee increases drivers should contact their local tax collector’s office.

Want to get your plate now? Go to


News to Use: Don’t forget these special offers…

Venue Rentals: Rent one of Mote’s unique venues now for your upcoming event and recieve a special discount. Click here for room details or call 941-388-2252.

venue-rental-bannerJoin the Connoisseur Club: At no cost, Mote Members can join the Gulf Coast Connoisseur Club and save 10% at some of your favorite restaurants and resorts, including Michael’s on East, The Colony, Pattigeorge’s and others. Mote will receive 5 percent of the amount you spend each time you use your Connoisseur Club card.
For more information about the program, check out the Connoisseur Club website.

Meet the Mote Family

Lots of folks enjoy getting acquainted with sea life when they come to Mote Aquarium. But did you know that Mote has reached out to the Sarasota community to highlight our underwater world - and to bring a little joy to weary air travelers?
Thanks to the support of special sponsors, Mote has been able to share the marine world through offsite exhibits at seven locations, including the Selby Library, Sarasota Memorial Hospital and the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
This month we meet Evan Barniskis, who oversees the care of these offsite exhibits and quite a few of those here at Mote. (Check out Evan in the picture below. He was diving in the shark habitat carving a pumpkin during Sharktoberfest 2008.)


Evan Barniskis
Home state: New Jersey
Time at Mote: 3½ years
How did you become an aquarist?
I actually fell into it. It’s just something that happened. I volunteered in Clearwater at an aquarium working with sea turtles and slowly moved into fish. I always had tanks as a kid, but I was never this person who thought this would be my dream job since I was 3. But I’m sure glad that’s what it has become.
What do you do every day?
I manage all offsite tanks — basically making sure all are maintained to Mote Aquarium exhibit quality, are clean and the animals are healthy. The great thing is that we hold our offsite aquariums to the same standards as we do our onsite aquariums. Our first priority is always fish health. My job also includes preparing budgets and installing all new aquariums offsite. Half of my time is also spent at Mote where I’m in charge of the clown fish and hermit crabs and a few other exhibits.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I like everything. My favorite is installing new aquariums/new exhibits. I like the challenges that it presents — the planning aspect, the hands-on experience and getting dirty. It feels good to have a job completed and have it look really nice.

Mote is working with airport officials to put in a new 6,000-gallon exhibit. Can you tell us more about those plans?
We’re going to break down the entire aquarium and re-do everything — from the filtration, to re-sealing all the windows and buffing the scratches to rebuilding the internal habitat and creating a new graphic design for the outside of the tank. The animals will all be strictly native to Florida and representat the exhibits we have at Mote. The theme will be the Florida Reef. Some fish that may be in the aquarium include angelfish, soldier fish, tangs and butterfly fish.
That sounds like a big undertaking.
We’ll probably use every aquarist at Mote for this job!

For Your Favorite Server…

Please help us let your favorite service industry professional know that they can enjoy some time off at Mote Aquarium for a great price during our “Service Industry Summer.”

Employees of Southwest Florida hotels, restaurants and bars get in for a special $5 rate from July 1 through Sept. 30, 2009, with proof of employment. The discount covers the server and one guest.

Dig in to Fossil Creek

Now Mote Aquarium visitors can play marine archaeologist — and take home natural buried treasures of the sea. Fossil Creek is located in the Mote Aquarium courtyard behind the Ray Tray. Each bucket of sand is $5.99 plus tax, and contains a unique mix of hidden fossils. Dig in!

Keeping dry….

columbia_jacket_enewsMote would like to thank Columbia Sportswear for the recent generous donation of apparel to help keep our researchers stay dry when they’re out in the field on those wet, blowy Florida days.
In-kind donations of new equipment and materials really help offset our expenses. If your company is interested in making an in-kind donation, please contact Corporate Relations Manager Stacy Alexander, at or 941-388-4441, ext. 509.

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