Mote Marine’s ‘Genie’ returns from 15-day red tide mission in Gulf of Mexico

The R/V William R. Mote sped out to open waters until the skyline of Sarasota started to look like Legos, and then disappear altogether.

The retired competitive fishing boat carried seven people 24 miles off the Gulf Coast on Friday to recover Mote Marine Laboratory’s Genie, a winged yellow torpedo-like device that was out on a 15-day mission to collect information on seven different factors, all to learn more about how red tide forms and moves.

“It was a textbook recovery,” said Tim Weghorst, a Mote Marine engineering technician. Other than issues with the satellite phone, her initial release went smoothly as well.

Searching for a sign of the 150-pound glider on the glassy water, two lone beach balls tricked Weghorst into thinking they were Genie. That morning, Weghorst was given Genie’s coordinates, so he hoped she hadn’t drifted too far. Third time was a charm, as Genie’s yellow tail stuck out of the water, waiting to be saved from the jellyfish- and tiger shark-infested waters.

While she was out in the Gulf of Mexico, she was able to send back small amounts of information whenever she surfaced. This information included water temperature, salinity, density, chlorophyll, average climb and dive rates and CDOM, which stands for chromophoric dissolved organic matter and is decaying plants or animals that makes water tannin-stained.

At first glance of what Genie captured, the locations on days 14 and 16 seemed to have spikes in chlorophyll and decaying plants or animals, but Mote’s ocean technology research program project manager Jordon Beckler said that those values are so high they’re probably not accurate.

“What is cool is that we are navigating the same transects a few days apart as we make our second revolution around the triangle,” Beckler said, noting that they’ll be able to see how the conditions change over time.

Beckler said it would take about a week for them to look over and understand what the data mean in terms of understanding red tide.

Genie was deployed on June 9 with a sailboat from Navocean, a Seattle-based company. While Genie collected data below the surface, Navocean’s Vela learned about the surface and atmosphere.

While Genie can’t detect what kind of phytoplankton is out in the water, two stationary but outdated OPDs, or optical phytoplankton discriminators, at Mote and on Sanibel Island can. Weghorst said he’s working on improving this capability.

Weghorst said the pump that Genie uses to dive and climb, taking in water and expelling it, can go through about 20,000 “yos” before needing to be replaced, which is another thing he’ll be working on now that she’s back.

Her next venture to collect data will be in two months, said Weghorst.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse