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New underwater robot “Genie” deployed to monitor harmful algae and more

Mote Marine Laboratory’s newest robotic glider — nicknamed “Genie” by Manatee County 5th-graders who won Mote’s naming contest — started its first underwater mission today, Nov. 9, offshore of northern Sarasota County. Genie will gather data useful for many kinds of ocean observing and research, including studies of the ongoing Florida red tide.

The glider’s name honors Dr. Eugenie Clark, the world-renowned “Shark Lady” who founded Mote in 1955 and died in 2015. The name was chosen by 5th-grade science students at Annie Lucy Williams Elementary School in Parrish during Mote’s naming contest among nine classes from five Sarasota-Manatee schools. The winning students will receive tickets to Mote Aquarium and participate in a video chat with the scientist operating Genie.

Genie is an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that resembles a yellow torpedo 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) long and is one of two AUVs operated by Mote. She carries instruments that can monitor the abundance of microscopic plant-like organisms called phytoplankton, including the toxic algae K. brevis, which causes Florida red tides that can be harmful to marine life and people. Genie’s instruments also monitor water temperature; depth; salinity; CDOM, colored dissolved organic matter, which can indicate runoff from land that might govern phytoplankton growth, and turbidity, which can indicate sediments being re-suspended in the water and that could be influencing algal blooms. In addition, Genie carries an acoustic receiver designed to detect fish tagged by researchers. This will help Mote scientists and others study fish migration patterns.

Genie was launched by boat today, Nov. 9, about 20 miles off northern Sarasota County, and will spend 15 days at sea. She will increase and decrease her buoyancy to move up, down and forward through the water, traveling southwest as far as 100 miles offshore. Then she will head east so Mote scientists can retrieve her offshore of Englewood. Genie’s instruments can collect data every second. Every four hours, the satellite transmitter in her tail will send some data to Mote scientists with more data stored on the AUV’s memory card for analysis after the mission.