October 30, 2017

Florida's MarineLab Rebuilds After Hurricane Irma

Submitted by Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer Jessica Dockery, MarineLab

Marine Resources Development Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Key Largo, Florida. The education program, MarineLab, is the pride and joy of the organization and hosts thousands of school age children from across the US and beyond for hands on marine science education through discussions, labs, snorkeling, and SCUBA diving. MarineLab is a long-time partner, conducting Reef Check surveys in the Keys since 2004 and serving as an EcoDiver training facility since 2010. EcoDiver Trainer Jessica Dockery, Director of MarineLab, has trained and certified close to 200 Reef Check EcoDivers so far.

In September, the facility braced itself for the strongest storm to pass through the Florida Keys since the Labor Day hurricane of 1935. Staff took time to move essential equipment to the second floor and tied down their five program boats as best as possible. Soon after, each staff member loaded up and headed for safety to the north, going as far as Kentucky and New York. Communication was strong between the tight knit team and when it was safe to return, they made their way home. Everyone had damage and some were left with no place to call home. Regardless, they all found temporary beds and quickly got to work getting the facility cleaned and rebuilt. The entire property had flooded in the storm leaving a few feet of mud and ocean debris in the labs, cafeteria, bathrooms (including in the toilets, yuck), and seasonal housing unit. Amazingly, while the vessels received substantial damage, they all remained afloat! The Floating Classroom was pushed up halfway on top of a dock while other houseboats behind it were all destroyed and sunk.

The marine science staff dug into their various skill sets and came blazing in as reinvented construction workers, carpenters, mold treaters, and general cleanup crew. On certain days, the team was able to focus on curriculum updates, safety training, and various research and data collection, including conducting Reef Check surveys to assess damage to local reefs.
Because of the damage, MarineLab was forced to cancel or reschedule nearly 2 months' worth of incoming schools. With income cut off, they reached out to their fans and supporters for any help that could be offered and the MarineLab Nation came through in a big way. Only with this support, MarineLab has been able to rebuild and improve upon the property and are very excited to get back to teaching!