Why the Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium is a Can’t-Miss On Any Lido Key Vacation

When you come for a visit, one of the coolest things to do in Lido Key is to visit the Mote Marine Lab.

Located along the Ken Thompson Parkway in nearby Sarasota, Florida, this nonprofit organization aims to create a better environment by preserving and promoting a healthier oceanic environment. And that involves a whole lot of science!

mom and child looking at aquarium fish
Photo: Shutterstock

Mote Marine Lab

This independent marine research institution is home to world-class marine scientists whose objective is to conserve and create more sustainable oceans by engaging in research and education. This lab was once a small, one-room set-up in a tiny Florida town, but now there are over 20 marine research programs put on by this massive marine laboratory.

Their focus was originally just on sharks, but now their studies involve the use of marine models, wild fisheries’ health, the effects that natural and man-made toxic substances have on people and the environment, and cultivating better fish restocking methods and food production technologies. Research on population dynamics of local endangered marine life aims to conserve and restore these special species and their unique ecosystems.

So, what can you expect from a trip to this Sarasota aquarium and research lab? Let’s take a look at what you will find in the aquarium, what kind of research is being done, and educational opportunities and experiences you can have at Mote Marine Lab while you are on your Lido Key vacation.

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Sarasota Aquarium

Mote Aquarium is only a few minutes away from downtown Sarasota and has a general admission cost that includes access to the exhibits in the Ann and Alfred E. Goldstein Marine Mammal Research and Rehabilitation Center. Tickets must be purchased online in advance. Children ages 2 and under get in for free, as do Mote members. Hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day of the week, all year round, including major holidays. So, if you need something for the kiddos to do on a holiday, you are welcome to come to Mote!

Visiting Mote Aquarium is not weather dependent, so you can come rain or shine. All exhibits are viewable under covered spaces, and the Aquarium and Marine Mammal Center have indoor and outdoor exhibits. The latter is mostly covered, save for the first-floor viewing area of the Otters & Their Waters and The Teeth Beneath, which are also viewable from an overhang area on the second floor. Wheelchairs are available, and service dogs are permitted.

Exhibits include the Florida Watershed, Manatees, Creatures from the Coastal Oceans, Sea Turtles: Ancient Survivors, and Megalodon Jaw & Fossil Creek. And, coming soon, is the Sharks exhibit! As they say at Mote, “science is the attraction,” and there is no shortage of it in these exhibits.

For example, the Florida Watershed exhibit brings your face-to-face with roseate spoonbills, river otters, alligators, and an adorable gopher tortoise. You will get to follow them from the fresh water and move out to the sea. The Sea Turtles: Ancient Survivors exhibit is super cool since it explains the complex history of these creatures. Resident blind green turtle Hang Tough came to the program in 1992 for the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital. Since he is blind, he cannot survive in the wild. You can also meet an adult female loggerhead named Montego who is there to help educate the public.

Additionally, Mote partners with Sarasota Bay Explorers to offer eco-tours in Sarasota’s luscious green waters. This gives you and your family the chance to participate in a hands-on, educational, and downright fun experience as you observe local manatees and bottlenose dolphins on a several-hour-long cruise. You’ll get plenty of time to take in the area’s rich folklore, history, and ecology on one of these awesome, adventurous tours.

Mote’s Research

Research is a critical component of Mote’s existence. When you leave your Lido Key rental and head to Mote, you will get immersed in the research that takes place there. Research started in 1955 under the guidance of Dr. Eugenie Clark, focusing primarily on sharks. Today, the lab has over 200 employees, including over 30 Ph.D. scientists. There are more than 20 research programs that are designed to tackle modern challenges and future ecological impacts.

Research programs include Phytoplankton Ecology, Coral Reef Restoration, Ocean Technology, Manatee Research, Sharks & Rays Conservation Research, Sea Turtle Rehabilitation, Ocean Acidification, and the Red Tide Institute. Fans of dolphins will want to check out the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which conducts the world’s longest-running dolphin population study collaboration between Mote (where the study originated in 1970) and the Chicago Zoological Society (which continues to support the program), not to mention a worldwide selection of colleagues. Understanding the human factors, ecology, behavior, biology, and health of these dolphins is an important part of the program.

Want to do some research on your own? Venture on over to the Arthur Vining Davis Library & Archives. This library provides access to scholarly materials that emphasize the importance of understanding marine life and environmental science. There are about 25,000 volumes in all a collection composed of books and reports, journal titles, cataloged reprints, Mote Technical Reports, and historical publications from the lab. Pick a marine sciences topic, and you will undoubtedly find some interesting info on it at this library.

Educational Experience

Education is a big part of the Mote Marine experience. In this age of distance learning, you can explore with Mote right from the comfort of your Lido Key vacation rental. Kids ages 6 through 14 can engage in this any semester that they choose. You can also get involved in virtual scout workshops and the Shark Pups and Grownups at Home program.

Of course, you get a lot more education on-site. You can partake in activities like a full moon paddle-kayaking, morning paddle-kayaking, dip netting in the bay, a bay walk adventure, and more. There are residential programs available for visiting groups and school programs at the lab’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration. There are programs for educators too, allowing them to discover classroom resources and activities for their students.

As Mote is a member of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences, you can dive with Mote provided you submit a Letter of Reciprocity from your dive safety officer or get certified as a temporary diver.

Plan Your Sarasota Adventure

You can customize your experience at Mote through the Choose Your Own Adventure program. This private program is meant for single-household groups who can arrive at 8:30 a.m. and can pay $30 (for members) or $35 (for non-members) via pre-registration (which is required). This cost does not include aquarium admission, that is a separate fee. You will get to watch the morning routine at the aquarium, meet all of Mote’s resident turtles, and engage in the walking tour.

Kayaking is absolutely a staple of your visit to Mote. Trained educators will take you out on a paddle trip around Sarasota Bay. All necessary kayaking equipment is provided, and you will get basic kayaking instruction before hitting the open water with your group. You will need to make reservations at least 24 hours before the program begins, and programs are first-come, first-serve.

Make sure you check out Mote’s Events Calendar so that you know which special events and programs are being held during your stay in a Lido Key beach rental. There are always family-friendly programs going on, such as dip netting in the bay or kayaking under the light of a full moon or the rising sun. The Seashore SEAfari is an all-ages mangrove forest romp that gets you using scientific tools to test water quality and go on a scavenger hunt.

Your Lido Key Rental

When you book in advance, you can take your pick from our upscale Lido Key luxury rentals and comfortable Lido Key vacation rentals. Whether you have just one person or an entire group of people coming with you, there is a rental with space for everyone. You can find pet-friendly rentals as well. No matter where you end up staying, you will be in close proximity to Sarasota and all of the wonderful wildlife there is to meet at Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium.