Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Laura Bush on Hand as New Mote Office Opens

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Laura Bush on Hand as New Mote Office Opens

Article excerpt

Mote Marine Laboratory's new office in Boca Grande doesn't amount to much more than a flat-screen TV, a desk, a few chairs and some fliers.

The grand opening Wednesday afternoon drew a crowd of hundreds, though. Maybe it had something to do with the guest speaker, Laura Bush. Yes, that Laura Bush, the former first lady. You know you're doing well when you can get a former first lady to come to your ribbon-cutting.

She didn't have to travel too far. Laura and W have rented a home in Boca Grande for two Januaries now, she told the audience. And the Bush family ties to Boca go way back to when local guide Phil O'Bannon, who will run the new Mote office, started taking George Sr. out fishing.

So Laura Bush joined former Congressman Andy Ireland, a number of lab staff members and volunteers to usher in the new digs.

The office is not a destination, as they say these days in the tourist industry. It's more of a symbolic gesture, a face, a presence in Boca Grande, where, as Mote executive director Kumar Mahadevan put it, "everyone is distinguished and important."

It's a strategic move to help engage important people either as volunteers or donors (although no one outright mentioned the latter) in several Mote research projects that could have an impact on the island's economy.

We're talking about studies of tarpon, sharks, snook and red tide.

And for Mote, this, not a new office, is the real story. The lab is redirecting its focus on Charlotte Harbor, where it started 55 years ago as the Bass Laboratories in Placida.

The lab hopes to put together an extensive acoustic tagging project for tarpon, enlisting guides and fishermen to capture 50 adult tarpon yearly. Researchers will tag each fish, then record their movements with 100 receivers placed in various habitats around the harbor. Among other questions, scientists hope to answer whether tarpon that leave Boca Grande Pass to spawn offshore return to the pass afterward.

Tarpon in particular influence the local economy. One Charlotte Harbor study estimated the impact at $110 million annually for resident fishermen alone. That doesn't include tourists or the guide industry.

With tarpon come the sharks that feed on them, especially bulls and hammerheads in the pass. …

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