Veto sinks planned expansion at Keys marine lab

The state-run Keys Marine Laboratory on Long Key may have to wait on state money for expansion of research facilities.
The state-run Keys Marine Laboratory on Long Key may have to wait on state money for expansion of research facilities.

The Florida Keys seem to have largely escaped the effect of Gov. Rick Scott’s budget vetoes, but a state-owned research facility in Layton apparently took a hit.

One of Scott’s line-item vetoes targeted $1.7 million that state lawmakers had approved for the Florida Institute of Oceanography, based at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The Keys Marine Laboratory, a former Sea World bayside attraction on the Long Key shoreline at mile marker 68.5, is one of the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s primary assets.

The budget veto could affect the oceanography institute’s boat operations and delay some desired improvements at the Layton lab, USF governmental-affairs Vice President Mike Walsh said Thursday, but the Keys facility is not in danger of closing.

“I think we’ll be able to mitigate any impacts on marine science, which remains a high priority” for the Florida Institute of Oceanography, Walsh said.

The Keys Marine Laboratory, says its home page, “offers a unique opportunity for college-level education and researchers studying the only tropical marine ecosystems in the continental United States ... an ideal location with easy access to Florida Bay, the Everglades National Park, the Florida Current, and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.”

The oceanography institute this year sought $1.8 million in state university funding, in part to add staff to the Keys Marine Lab “to support not only the increasing demands and usage of the facility, but also to maintain the upkeep of all operational systems at the laboratory.”

With a National Science Foundation grant, the Florida Marine Lab has built “the most advanced seawater circulation system ... a state-of-the-art system [that] can reconstruct historical, present and future ocean conditions, allowing never-before research to be conducted,” the funding proposal says. The science will be critical in preventing the loss of pillar coral on Keys reefs, it continues, and other researchers are eager to use the system for separate investigations.

“The Florida Keys are intrinsically dependent on a reliable and healthy marine ecosystem for tourism, and commercial and recreational fisheries,” the funding request says. “It is critical for Florida to have the infrastructure that monitors this delicate and important ecosystem, while providing teaching and research resources for faculty and students across the state.”

Scott this week vetoed nearly $410 million in legislative budget grants, including about $114 million from an assortment of projects sought by the Florida university system. The $1.74 million in Florida Institute of Oceanography money was among them.

This week’s special legislative session, scheduled to end Friday, was expected to resolve Scott’s veto of the $11.4 billion public-school budget. The governor and leaders of the Florida Legislature differed over school funding amounts and other related issues.

Mote lab funds OK

A $500,000 grant to Mote Marine Laboratory for a Florida Keys-based coral program remains in the state budget after surviving the governor’s cuts.

The Florida Keys Coral Reef Restoration Initiative aims to outplant “approximately 25,000 corals over acres of restored reefs” in a cooperative program with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“We sincerely thank state Rep. Holly Merrill Raschein (R-Key Largo) for her dedicated support for this initiative getting these funds,” Mote President Dr. Michael Crosby said. Scott did veto a $483,000 grant for a Mote science-education program at the USF-Sarasota campus.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206