"Captain" Del Layton was a successful grocery store operator in Miami before WWII. He had a dream about establishing a fishing camp in the Keys. After purchasing a large tract of land on Long Key, he and his wife, Mary, purchased several barracks buildings that were being sold as war surplus and had the disassembled buildings moved to this site in 1945. The first building reassembled became their new home and others followed as cottages for the fishing camp. That first cottage is now the KML "cottage." The Layton's lived in the cottage for about ten years while they established the fishing camp (now the Lime Tree Resort which borders the KML.) The west end portion of the KML was previously part of the original motel/fishing camp site.
The KML boat basin was originally part of a marina built as part of the motel operation. The "marina building" was built prior to l961, in stages, as weekend fishing became more popular in the Keys, was added-on to by various owners of the marina and served as housing for the marina owners as well as shop and office spaces. All building was accomplished before any building codes existed and the dates of construction and additions are not exactly known.
In 1962, the town of Layton was incorporated and Mr. Layton began selling off lots in the area for single family dwellings. At that time the KML's "admin building" was in place and was being used as the town's post office. Other parts of the building served as very small rooms for visiting sportsmen and one part became a commercial gift shop. In the late '70's the existing KML site and adjoining bay bottom was sold to Sea World of Florida, Inc., by Mr. Layton. Sea World hoped to open a roadside tourist attraction featuring sharks and local marine creatures. They converted the existing buildings, added attraction and support buildings, and filled in submerged areas of the property alongside US 1 for a theme park called "Sea World Shark Institute.'' A portion of the total property (bordering on U.S. Highway #1) was leased from the Florida Department of Transportation and converted for use as the public parking at the attraction.
The park opened in 1978 but never became a commercial success. In 1982 the park was closed as an attraction but continued as a holding site for marine mammals and a collecting base for Sea World display creatures. one of the alternative uses for the facility included public educational usage and in 1985 the Florida Institute of Oceanography began using the site for summer school teacher education programs.
Sea World intended to revamp the entire site as a pure research and education center in the middle Keys but financial difficulties forced them to sell all their unprofitable operations in 1988. The State of Florida was interested in the property but could not arrange an agreement in time. The property was sold to a time share developer. He became discouraged however, did not attend the sale closing, and The Nature Conservancy quickly purchased the property to hold for state purchase.
Beginning in September, 1988, the Florida Institute of Oceanography was allowed to use the property as a marine laboratory site. This full-time operation began with a manager and a receptionist
Background of the Operation:
The KML was established in 1990 as an attempt to meet a perceived need for a state-wide system of regionally-based marine field stations throughout Florida capable of assisting in meeting local challenges to the marine environment and the KML as an especially good site for a multi-use facility. The KML site was chosen because it was considered a satisfactory site for educational group use, it was available for sale and it was considered appropriate as a developed site for a full-service marine laboratory.
The site had been developed by Sea World of Florida, Inc. as a for-profit public attraction showcasing marine organisms, by habitat, in artificial, high-maintenance display environments. The facility was to attract 2,000 visitors per day and opened in 1978 with 34 full-time employees. The attraction was to be self- sustaining and provide its own maintenance, landscaping, aquarists, public food service, gift shop, marine collecting efforts, management and tour guide services. When the attraction closed to the public in 1982 the staff was reduced to 14, then 12 and finally 7 full-time employees maintaining the site and providing live marine display animals to the other Sea World theme parks.
Sea World was planning a major renovation of the site for pure marine research efforts but in 1987 the parent company became the target of a hostile takeover. All facility maintenance was stopped, the staff was reduced to two persons and the property was offered for sale. It was purchased by the Nature Conservancy in l988 for resale to the State of Florida and while waiting for that eventuality it was operated by FIO as a marine station and marine education site.
History of the Operation:
During 1989 and 1990 the KML operation and FIO struggled with a critical lack of funding. Only emergency maintenance could be attempted and staffing could not be increased. The KML concept
however was an "instant" success with users. Although the current suite of ecosystem problems had not been popularized, the lab site is highly appropriate for marine field studies, and visitor utilization began immediately. (At one point during this time it was necessary that a group of researchers share their dinner table with buckets that were collecting rain water, while the lab manager swept water off the leaking roof.. But they did it willingly for the opportunity to work at the lab!) Bill Gibbs was hired during this period to assist with lab activities as a temporary employee of the Whitney Lab of the University of Florida assigned to the KML site. FDNR's queen conch program had been attracted to the site by Sea World and they continued gratis use of the facilities. FIO continued to the site for summer education programs. FDNn's local lobster project used the lab for some activities and outside use was encouraged. From the 1988 start with two FIO temporary employees, a developed site (badly in need of renovation), and no budget. A third temporary employee was added (using outside funding) and use began to build. In late 1990 the site was purchased by the State of Florida and the operation was budgeted by the Florida Marine Research Institute of the FONR. The three temporary employees obtained FTE jobs at the lab and a fourth FTE was hired at that time. Another employee (OPS) was hired in l991. A part-time housekeeper was hired (FIO, OPS) in 1992 and a second OPS employee was hired in 1993. During that same time period use steadily increased from nothing in 1988 to approximately 100 projects and 7,000 users day during PY95-96.
Current Objectives of the Operation:
The KML's purpose has been to encourage Floridians and others to study and report on our ecosystems' components by developing and sustaining a permanent land base at the existing KML because the lab can, by its location and funding mechanisms, be of assistance in these activities, and because these activities are goals of Plorida's education systems and of Florida's Department of Environmental Protection. To date the KILL has been successful in these objectives and has contributed to about 400 peer-reviewed scientific publications and hosted about 20,000 student-use-days at the site.
Funding of the KML is by others because to be self-sustaining would lead to a single-user dominance of the facilities and discourage the interaction between the variety of users that can lead to the serendipitous discoveries in marine education and marine research that occur when different disciplines interact in the unique KML atmosphere.
The KML has remained flexible and "customer-driven" in its role of providing a Middle Keys site for marine research and education. At the same time there is history enough of the general need for the facility and the partners understand the needs of its current users and the "market" for such a facility.
Staffing and other assistance levels have increased over time to a point where needs and availability are roughly balanced. The lab should not continue growing in size/ mission, use, or staffing but instead, can now concentrate on PERFECTING its physical plant and operations to best serve its existing uses.