Blue Community Program Coastal Sustainability Best Practices

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium a Blue Community Sustainable Tourism Observatory


University of South Florida

Patel College of Global Sustainability

Ecotourism & Sustainable Tourism Management, Spring 2018


Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium a Blue Community Sustainable Tourism Observatory; sustainable tourism best practices, innovations, and initiatives for submission to the UNWTO Year for Sustainable Tourism for Development.


May 2018

-Contact- Fitz Ortiz, Education Outreach Specialist

-Address- 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy, Sarasota, FL 34236

-Organization- Mote Marine Aquarium and Laboratory




It is safe to say that tourism relies on the local resident’s ability to provide a desirable destination. With that being said, it is important to note that it is not the local’s sole responsibility to maintain the destination. Visitors should be included in the master plan of sustainability to preserve tourist destinations. When it comes to conservation and sustainability, every person’s actions affect the chain both negatively and positively. Sustainable tourism takes into account this balance and creates pathways to self-preservation. In order to achieve this symbiotic way of life we must shed light on those dedicated to improving sustainability and conservation through innovation and best practices. Arguably, the most important aspect of these criteria is public education. This planet is made up of billions of people, places and things. It would be silly to think that we are not all connected. While cause and effect are a mild way to describe our nature, it provides a simple truth, there is an effect for every cause whether it be positive or negative. Education is a powerful tool in this aspect, because the more we know and share, the less negative our effects can be.

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, further known as MML, is an innovative research laboratory and aquarium with an impressive focus on public outreach and education. MML was founded in 1955 with the desire for a simple place to learn about the oceans (Mahadevan, 2010). This vision inspired a world-renowned facility dedicated to marine research and was expanded in 1967 to include community issues such as red tide. This was the unofficial beginning of MML’s public outreach program. The official beginning was in October of 1980 when the Marine Science Center, also known as the aquarium, was opened. This center was specifically designed for connecting the public to the sea and expanded into a program that includes events, summer camps, public lectures, and more (Mahadevan, 2010). The education and outreach program grew throughout the 1980’s well into today’s Environmental Health Department. The aquarium drew the public’s attention and created a tourist destination that promoted both research and education. The significance of research and education strengthens community involvement which is one of the many goals of sustainable tourism. Sarasota, from 2016 - 2017, drew over 2 million visitors for its beautiful beaches, nature preserves and more, which generated nearly $2 million to the local economy (Kirsch, n.d.). Tourism is a necessity for local economies around the world, but sustainable tourism is imperative to all aspects of life. MML is a prime example of a tourist destination that is promoting sustainability.

Through MML’s Environmental Health Program, run by Dr. Tracy Fanara, people are encouraged far and wide to learn about marine life and its relation to us. An important engagement method MML utilizes is citizen science. Citizen science is the collection of data by members of the general public for scientific research. It provides a transport of information that is applied to a study or project that scientists cannot otherwise collect themselves. The importance of this exchange bridges the gap between data that needs to be collected and analyzed on larger scales. It also allows for more thorough analysis because not all technology can sense things such as a human’s sense of smell could. For instance, to monitor red tide, samples must be taken from multiple locations sometimes daily. While this is not always practical for a team of scientists, it is an excellent way to involve volunteers. They can report odors, fish kills, water discoloration and so on, something sensors cannot always do. Allowing locals to experience science in this way helps provide unified communities. These communities then become desirable destinations because they are cleaner and safer. Citizen science is a tool that encourages the community to be involved in their habitats, to cultivate optimal living conditions and to stimulate the economy by drawing tourists in to experience their community in new ways. Currently the Environmental Health Program has three main projects including H.A.B.scope, BCRS and the CSIC application.

Harmful Algal Bloom Microscope, otherwise known as H.A.B.scope, is plainly put, a cellphone mounted microscope with an app that is able to analyze water samples for harmful algal blooms, specifically karenia brevis, or more commonly known as red tide. MML provides trained volunteers with a microscope equipped with a 3D printed mount that fits an iPod touch. The iPod is loaded with an app that enables volunteers to report videos of local water samples. They are instructed to go waist deep into their designated natural water location and collect a sample free of debris to be analyzed. The sample is a control of three drops of water on a microscope slide. The volunteer will then take a geolocated video on the app with the goal that the algorithm in-app can detect karenia brevis cells which indicates potential red tide based on location. The volunteers document once a day during algal blooms and once a week in between blooms. The intention of this algorithm is to count the karenia brevis cells per liter of water and use the data for a NOAA respiratory prediction model. Red tide is known to cause fish kills, respiratory irritation, skin irritation and other general negative health effects on both ocean and land inhabitants. H.A.B.scope is a collaborative project that includes partnerships with NASA ROSES, NOAA, and GCOOS or the Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System.

Sarasota is a beach town and environmental hazards such as red tide is a beach deterrent. The importance of studying harmful algal blooms allows for solutions and development of new best practices which will be applicable to residents and visitors alike. According to Florida, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, an algal bloom can last anywhere from weeks to potentially longer than a year (Red Tide FAQ, n.d.). If the destination is plagued with red tide, the economy could suffer for years to come. Without citizen science and the willingness of volunteers to sample and monitor multiple natural bodies of water throughout the community, sustainable tourism is unachievable.

The second program MML has initiated is the BCRS or the Beach Condition Reporting System. This system is operated by trained and established reporters in designated strategic locations across the Florida Gulf coast. The reporters post beach conditions in regard to harmful algal bloom indicators, up to two times a day and currently represents over 30 beaches within 24 cities along the Gulf coast. This initiative provides safe and reliable information to both residents and visitors. Through this system, reports on hazards can guide visitors to an improved beach experience. As the climate changes and the temperature beings to fluctuate more drastically, the need for sustainable tourism initiatives are immediate. BCRS proves that these systems work on a local scale and can be expanded to share information on more than harmful algal blooms. Programs such as these would supplement public information and be able to report on conditions such as trash, stranded animals, habitat damage such as erosion and so much more. Sustainable tourism is a best practice that needs tools such as these to properly care for its environments.

The third program at MML is a supplemental tool, called CSIC or the Citizen Science Information Collaboration. This is an app that allows any user to submit geolocated environmental hazards such as fish kills, water discoloration, respiratory irritation and so on. Development is underway to include reporting’s of oil spills, animal fatalities, turtle nesting and more. This app is an incredible resource for sustainable tourism. It allows locals and visitors to alert each other as well as officials to potential hazardous threats in real time. This, coupled with response times by local organizations and businesses who maintain the habitats, can make or break a destination’s reputation. The digital era is a game changer in regard to real time information sharing. Imagine being able to protect your environment because concerned citizens report problems in the area that otherwise go unchecked.

While MML has a strong group of current projects that provide information about potential harmful algal bloom hazards for beach goers, there are also big things on the horizon. Dr. Fanara, the Environmental Health Program manager, has created an incredible outreach program that will translate across the board of sustainability. It is a video series titled Inspector Planet, and the premise is involving everyday communities and their questions about science. A multidisciplinary team, including Dr. Fanara, will show the community how the scientific method works based off of a local question. This outreach technique will engage audiences across the globe and show that science is achievable for everyone, not just scientists. It will engage the locals and create connections between all fields, whether it be tourism, food, water, energy and so on, through its quest for the answer. This program will spark science through entertainment. Engaging the public on science is a challenging task, this follows suit for sustainable tourism. General populations might not know that lights on the beach disrupt turtle nesting. It is an education and outreach programs job to ensure that these important aspects of sustainability reach its residents and visitors. In order to conserve nature, there has to be a unified understanding that we have the power to change our circumstances. We can travel and leave the destination a better place than when we first arrived. We can even take those best practices and apply them everywhere else. The mission of the series is to make science accessible to all walks of life and prove that implementing sustainability is simple. Sustainable tourism would benefit greatly from this because best practices would not only be taught but also applied because people would already know its importance.

As the department at MML grows, there are an endless amount of opportunities to promote public outreach and education. The Living Docks project, soon to be launched, is geared toward creating artificial floating reefs connected to local docks that will determine which creatures have the ability to filter out harmful toxins in the oceans. Sea life including bivalves will colonate on these surfaces which citizen scientists and professional scientists will study. This collaboration will help researchers determine which sea creatures can naturally filter out the harmful toxins in our waterways. Citizen scientists would report the biodiversity and monitor the system for scientists to analyze. Another program being developed is the installation of small hydroponic systems throughout the community at local schools. MML will provide the vertical grow system, substrate, plants and fertilizers plus a barrel for rainwater collection and a small solar operated pump to push the water. This system allows food to grow vertically, without soil and with minimal water supply. Initiatives such as these helps get the community involved and begin to teach all ages about what sustainability and conservation can be. It provides an equal opportunity learning experience with the long-term goal of normalizing this skill set. Sustainable tourism is based off the location’s ability to host multiple visitors at once. Putting successful hydroponic setups throughout the community provide a baseline of learning for local residents. This can translate to larger scales encouraging resorts and restaurants to begin seeing the merit in producing their own food or perhaps just buying locally as a first step. Tourists, like everyone else, need shelter, food and water. These necessities are not always available around the world. Awareness programs started in the community help promote the user’s ability to do it on their own. The proper method and education taught by these different programs through MML are a baseline to get others engaged including tour operators.

MML doesn’t just stop at their Environmental Health Program. They have numerous fields of study including marine immunology, environmental laboratory for forensics, Sarasota dolphin research, coral reef monitoring and assessment, fisheries habitat ecology, ocean acidification, marine and freshwater aquaculture, marine biomedical research, dolphin, whale and sea turtle hospitals, sharks and rays conservation, fisheries ecology and enhancement, coral health and disease, chemical and physical ecology, coral reef restoration, stranding investigations, phytoplankton ecology, sea turtle conservation and research, benthic ecology, ecotoxicology, ocean technology research and manatee research. Each of these programs is dedicated to an important aspect of our environments. Without the health of these environments, tourism could not exist. The importance of research and development, whether it includes citizen scientists or not, is crucial to the survival of the world. Sustainable tourism is an aspect that comes with the help of sifting through all this research provided by dedicated facilities such as MML. Best practices are created to ensure that tourism is beneficial to all environments and its visitors. MML is an incredible resource for innovation, initiatives and best practices.

Each different project the Environmental Health Program is working on, as well as all the other fields of study done at MML, have the potential for widespread application and growth. This dedication and scale from one small piece of the world proves that citizen science, public outreach and education are extremely important tools to continue improving our sustainable best practices. Without these programs, the public would otherwise be disengaged from their surroundings because lack of interest would exist. Daily life has a way of putting sustainability on the back burner. Awareness, education and public outreach are key to creating a sustainable environment, business, or lifestyle. Sustainability is a multidisciplinary resource with rich information available from all over the world. As we continue to grow as a species, now is the best time to increase our knowledge of conservation and sustainability to improve today and our future. Tourism has a unique opportunity to teach sustainability throughout multiple ecosystems. Visitors can take all the best practices and apply them to their own homes which perpetuates the healing circle. Sustainable tourism has the ability to learn from research and development from places such as MML. The more educational programs available, the easier it is to update policies and implement sustainable initiatives throughout the world. For instance, MML’s Living Docks project can be placed at marinas to enhance water filtration, or the hydroponic garden can be placed in hotel gardens to encourage local food growth. Each time a visitor sees a “cool” project, it will spark their desire to do something worthwhile too, perhaps without even knowing it is worthwhile.

Improving environmental quality at desirable destinations is critical to sustainable tourism and the world in general. Best practices are developed because they are intended to conserve our home lands and visitors come far and wide to experience these habitats and different cultures. Sustainable tourism is important to keep our footprints in check. Travel is a privilege and there must be offsets to ensure the safety and continued health of our homes. Education and public outreach are vital to sustaining local destinations. MML is dedicated in providing information about their local hotspots, including the famous beaches on Florida’s Gulf coast. Through research and development, MML is able to enlist as many as 2,000 citizen scientists and volunteers throughout the year. These programs are designed to ensure the health and safety of both humans and ecosystems. Without outreach and education, sustainable tourism could not exist. Citizen scientists and volunteers are a substantial part of each program due to the growing concern for the health of our planet. All aspects of easily available information are necessary for sustainable tourism to thrive. Each new discovery shared openly across all disciplines, scientist or citizen, can change the world.



Kirsch, E. (n.d.). Sarasota County Loves Tourists. Retrieved from

Mahadevan, K. (2010). Mote Marine Laboratory, Exploring the Secrets of the Sea since 1955, A Historical Perspective Retrieved from

Red Tide FAQ. (n.d.). Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Retrieved from





O'Brien, K. (2018). Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium a Blue Community Sustainable Tourism Observatory. Retrieved from


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