Dipping my cupped hand into the water, I stretch my arm up and outwards, watching in awe as glowing streams of blue-sapphire drops shimmer and scamper down my forearm like rapid moving cockroaches. My mind searches to find another incident from my past similar to this experience, but it cannot. Never have I observed another phenomenon like this…external bioluminescent veins of light running down my arm, dropping and disappearing back to their watery home below.
Welcome to Mosquito Bay, Puerto Rico. Found 90 minutes east of the mainland (by ferry) on the island of Vieques, this bay features the world’s greatest concentrated display of bioluminescent activity found anywhere in the world.
Bio Bay, as referred to by the locals, lies on the southern Caribbean side of Vieques near the town of Esperanza. It’s a short 25 minute Público (taxi van) from the ferry arrival port in Isabel Segunda, but be sure to have your guides pick you up because it would be very easy to get lost in the backroads once you get off the main highway.
This is definitely a MUST DO if you’re ever in Puerto Rico. It stands up and exceeds any expectations you might ever of dreamed of. To me, it was a Steven Spielberg like experience, complete with visuals from the movies Avatar and the Life of Pi all rolled into one.
Mosquito Bay Play Time: The Child Within
My friends from Jak Water Sports (www.jakwatersport.com) escorted 10 of us in 5 tandem kayaks off into the night waters once we were suited up and ready to go. Immediately, once out of the “gate,” I noticed the luminescence around the paddle with every slice into the dark waters, intensifying with each stroke as we paddled further out. I gazed in awe at the rim of luminescent light around each kayak as each sliced through the waters. I felt like a child again, full of joy and glee, wanting to experiment and play with this new “toy” that was so much fun.
I splayed my paddle back and forth across the water. Every drop of water that splashed lit-up for a brief moment. I put my hand in the water and swished it back and forth, gazing in wonder at the aura-like glow that surrounded it. I splashed, sprayed, and took some of the salty water into my mouth, spitting it back into the waters in an arc, watching it light up upon striking the surface.
Nearby, I saw a lightening streak of light zip through the water, the trail of a startled fish scampering away from our intrusion onto its feeding grounds. I saw drops of rain light up the waters upon impact. Each cresting wave lit up as it collapsed over into the darkened waters. I moved my paddle fast, then slow, watching how the bioluminescence intensity varied with the speed of movement. The bay was alive, a life force that was impossible to ignore. Every motion, every drop, every ounce of the bay was awake from top to bottom!
How, When, & Why
Simply put, the bioluminescence of the bay is caused by the varying concentration of small, single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates (species Pyrodinium bahamense, for those of you who are interested). Microscopic in size (1/500 inch), the spectacular neon blue light burst given off when disturbed is a hundred times bigger than itself. The light is released when the organism feels pressure against its cell wall, instantaneously converting chemical energy to light energy.
The light release is powerful, immediate, and bright. At Mosquito Bay, the concentration of dinoflagellates per gallon of water averages 500,000, with a record 1,300,000 per gallon recorded in 2015. The next best bioluminescent bay, also in Puerto Rico, averages 100,000 per gallon of water. Specimens for concentration measurements are taken on average every 3 weeks throughout the year by scientist and researchers.
Unlike other similar bioluminescent bays found throughout the world, Mosquito Bay is active year round. There are no “off” times. Tours are run throughout the year, though operators generally discourage participation a couple days before and after the full moon phase due to decreased visibility.
Bioluminescent dinoflagellate ecosystem bays are among the rarest and most fragile found anywhere in the world. Usually a combination of factors come together to create these unique conditions, normally consisting of red mangrove trees surrounding the waters, a complete lack of modern development around the bay (as of 5 years ago swimming in the bay was discontinued: body lotions and chemicals were causing harm to the environment), plus the depth and temperature of the waters must fall within certain standards. Also important, is that the entrance to the bay be small and narrow so that the dinoflagellates remain in the bay.
One interesting note found on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vieques%2C_Puerto_Rico) is that the entrance to Mosquito Bay was created artificially by early Spaniards who thought the bioluminescent waters were the work of the devil (El Diablo) and the bay needed to be choked off from the ocean. They tried to block off the entrance to the bay by dropping huge boulders into the channel. By doing so, they succeeded in unknowingly preserving and increasing the luminescence plankton of this isolated bay.
Want to see and get a true feel for the experience? Watch the following link:
Click the picture above for an amazing video!
I tried to take pictures with my camera but couldn’t get any acceptable results because of low light levels. This fellow captured it in great detail because of the ISO ability of the new Sony A7S camera to capture light sensitivity levels up to 409,600!
For more information on bioluminescence please click on the following link:
Without a doubt, visiting Mosquito Bay should be on everyone’s bucket list. For less than $125.00 you can take the ferry from Fajardo to Vieques ($2.00 each way, or $1.00 if your 64 or older), stay in a very nice hostel ($25.00 per person at the Lazy Hostel in Esperanza–you must stay overnight somewhere since the ferries do not run late at night), and sign-up with one of the many tour companies in the area ($74.00: I used Black Beard Sports out of Isabel. They will pick you up at your designated location).
If you throw in a meal and taxi service to and from the ferry to the hostel, you’ll come to about $125.00 give or take a few dollars.
You won’t be disappointed. I guarantee it!