Erin Muir, a sixth-generation Upper Keys native, is descended from two founding Florida Keys families — the Albury and Lowe families that settled in the Keys in the 1860s — whose roots run as deep as those of the mangroves lining the island chain’s shoreline.
A sixth-generation Upper Keys native, Erin has lived most of her life in the Keys.
Erin, Mote Marine Laboratory’s newly named Upper Keys engagement manager, handles outreach and engagement with locals and visitors at Mote’s new land-based coral nursery. Located near Reefhouse Resort & Marina’s conference center in Key Largo, it’s to be unveiled in mid-August.
Mote opened its first satellite land-based coral nursery at Bud ‘N Mary’s Marina in Islamorada in 2021. The two nurseries have a combined capacity of 40,000 coral fragments.
Erin’s knowledge of state and local government and Keys benefactors is extensive. She’s a former state legislative aide to Holly Raschein, now a Monroe County commissioner, and led fundraisers for the Florida Keys History and Discovery Foundation.
At Mote, Erin is developing small-group eco-tour packages to include participation in hands-on coral fragging, or propagation, activities.
Mote is in the midst of a 10-year, science-based Florida Keys Coral Disease Response & Restoration Strategic Initiative. The program uses genetic strains of coral that demonstrate enhanced resiliency to rising water temperatures, increasing seawater acidity and coral disease. The initiative includes multiyear monitoring to assess survival and ecosystem health.
Erin has lived most of her life in the Keys, except for six years at the University of Florida.
She and husband Sam, a Florida Power & Light engineer, also spent 18 months in southern Alabama. Now, with young children Violet and Charlie, they live surrounded by her close-knit family in Tavernier.
Keys Voices: When did you first come to the Florida Keys and why?
Erin credits her children Charlie (left) and Violet with keeping her motivated to help protect the Keys’ natural world.
Erin Muir: My family emigrated here from the Bahamas in the 1860s to farm limes and tomatoes. We are lucky to call this unique place home.
KV: What aspects of the Keys environment or way of life matter most to you?
EM: Living in a community that has such a great appreciation of our area’s natural beauty and a deep understanding of the need to protect our environment.
KV: Who or what inspired you to become passionate about respecting and protecting the Keys’ natural world?
EM: My mom inspired me and decades of students she taught at Key Largo School. She made learning about the delicate balance between our unique and interconnected marine ecosystems engaging and fun — whether it was learning about the shelter red mangroves provide to young fish, seeing what tiny creatures you can shake out of a handful of sargassum or identifying bird species in the Everglades.
KV: How does that passion influence your work or profession?
EM: It is a source of pride to know that the small part I play with Mote contributes to such positive impacts on our local environment.
KV: What are some of the ways, personally or through your work, that you connect with and/or help protect the local environment and unique lifestyle?
EM: I’m focused on helping others to connect with and engage in Mote’s science-based reef restoration efforts in the Upper Keys. I help people understand perils facing our reefs and the hope that Mote’s restoration efforts bring for revitalizing this precious ecosystem.
Erin’s mother taught her about the delicate balance between the Keys’ unique and interconnected marine ecosystems — and now she can teach her kids.
KV: What keeps you energized, challenged and focused on your path?
EM: Our children, Violet and Charlie, keep me motivated. My grandfather, who grew up in the Upper Keys, tells us about quality of the reefs and abundance of marine life when he was young. That abundance has declined for my parents’ generation and my own. Changing that course, and making sure my kids get to experience more beautiful and resilient reefs and plentiful fisheries, keeps me focused on my path.
KV: What’s your favorite natural or eco-friendly activity in the Keys?
EM: We recently took the kids to stroll/scoot the Old Seven Mile Bridge out to Pigeon Key. It was exciting to see sharks, rays and other marine life from the bridge. My mom and I got our Keys history fix with our visit to the island. It was a wonderful day!
KV: What do you hope your positive environmental actions will accomplish?
EM: Mote’s coral disease response and restoration initiative will add over 1 million corals back to our local reefs, which will be an incredible accomplishment for all of our scientists, staff, volunteers and supporters.
KV: What message do you want your actions and example to communicate to people you encounter?
EM: Everyone can play a role in helping restore our coral reefs. You don’t have to be a marine biologist or scuba diver. Just channel your passion into action because, whether those actions are small or large, they collectively lead to positive impacts.