How thousands of tiny coral stood up to big, bad Irma

Tuesday, 26 September 2017, 01:05:57 AM. Built to Category 5 standards, upgraded coral-restoration center suffers minimal damage to Hurricane Irma.

Mote Marine Laboratory’s $7 million investment in its rebuilt Summerland Key field station paid off.

The precast concrete structure near mile marker 24 “was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane,” Mote information staffer Shelby Isaacson said Monday.

“We just didn’t think we would have to test it this soon,” she added.

The Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration, newly dedicated in May, suffered minimal damage when Hurricane Irma unleashed its fury on the Lower and Middle Keys on Sept. 10.

Several outdoor tanks used to culture young corals were heavily damaged. However, the majority of the 40,000 tiny corals of three dozen species were saved by moving them inside the main building or trucking them to Mote’s Sarasota base, Isaacson said.

“It could have been a whole lot worse,” she said. “All our staff is safe and sound. We had a pretty intense preparation plan in place.”

The newly enlarged 19,000-square-foot complex was rebuilt over the past year 18 months as “a major base of operations and a launching platform for global coral-reef restoration.”

“As the storm passed, our backup systems for electricity were fully functional and our coral gene-bank, and seed stock for restoring the coral reef tract, remained safe inside with running seawater systems, aeration and other critical life support,” Mote said in a Tuesday summary. “The entire building, including its dorms, eight labs, two classrooms and offices, is secure with minimal or no impact.”

The success of Mote in nurturing several types of corals — elkhorn, brain, boulder, mountain star, in addition to staghorn — helped pave the way for the nonprofit organization’s commitment to expand the Summerland Key facility.

“Mote is staying put” on Summerland, Isaacson said. “Our staff is bringing supplies down there and we’re pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.”

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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