Genie and Vela are reporting for duty.
On a muggy Thursday morning at Mote Marine’s dock, Mote and Navocean, a Seattle-based company, prepared to launch their red-tide data-collecting devices into Florida waters.
Florida isn’t the only state that deals with harmful algal blooms such as red tide. Scientists still don’t know what triggers red-tide blooms and how they move around.
“There’s so little known,” said Stuart Lochner, Navocean director of sales and mission support. “We can fill in some gaps and understand it.”
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Genie, Mote’s robotic autonomous underwater vehicle named after founding director Dr. Eugenie Clark, is a hydrodynamic yellow glider that looks like a torpedo with wings.
The $180,000, 4.9-foot machine, which runs on more than 100 C-batteries costing $2,600, collects a multitude of information such as water temperature, salinity, depth and abundance of phytoplankton, including the algae Karenia brevis that causes red tide.
The $70,000 solar-powered, self-navigating Navocean Nav2 sailboat named Vela (Latin for a ship’s sails) will collect similar data on the surface where Genie cannot go.
“(Navocean is) filling a niche being a small vehicle and being sail-powered that really wasn’t out there,” Lochner said.
Bright-orange, 6.5-foot Vela will follow Genie’s preset path for a few days before surveying a zig-zag course near shore. Since Vela is on the surface, the drone sends real-time data back to shore.
Genie can only transmit when she’s on the surface, according to Jordon Beckler, Mote’s project manager for the ocean technology research program.
“This guy needs to dive and needs about 60 feet or so,” said Lochner of Genie. “(Vela) can come in and cover that zone, especially from 1 mile offshore to 15.”
Together, Genie and Vela will help Mote scientists learn more about toxic algae and how it comes about.
The glider will be out on her own for a preguided, triangular 15-day mission. Starting off 15 miles from Longboat Key, Genie will move southwest to a point 60 miles offshore, then turn southeast toward the shore by Englewood. Still 15 miles from the coastline, Genie will head back to her launch point for pickup.
Navocean is partnering with Mote on this project for free.
“We’re putting together a nice little package for red-tide monitoring,” Beckler said.