10 June 2011

Time for a Bioluminescent Bay

Welcome back. At dinner one evening during my first summer at the Arecibo Observatory, we learned about a phosphorescent bay. “Let’s go see it,” Giovanni, my roommate, suggested.

First Try 

We hopped into the visitors’ VW bug and drove off. We must have had a map because after 2 or 3 hours we arrived at La Parguera, on Puerto Rico’s southwest coast. The town had gone to bed, but we eventually found someone who could help.

Through Giovanni’s Italian, my English and our complementary gestures, we discovered that, no, we couldn’t stand on the shore or a dock to see the phenomenon. We would need a boat and probably a guide, and that wasn’t going to happen at that late hour.

Dejected, we headed back to Arecibo. My misery was amplified when I, a lover of animals, furry or otherwise, unavoidably (and unquestionably) reduced the island’s cat population--my first ever road kill.  

Blank Filler

A bioluminescent bay is, in essence, a water body with enough of certain microscopic plankton to visibly light up the water when the microorganisms are agitated. Picture hundreds of thousands of sunken, microscopic fireflies (with or without scuba gear), glowing together until they calm down.
There aren’t many of these fragile ecosystems in the world; Puerto Rico has three.

Second Try--Many Years Later

I mentioned that, once upon a time, my wife, Vicki, son, Noah, and I broke our visit-family tradition and vacationed in Puerto Rico. Although I developed our one-week itinerary with 14-year old Noah in mind, there was one attraction we all had to see. (Can you guess which one?)

Puerto Rico’s brightest bioluminescent bay is on Vieques, a small island off the main island’s east coast. When I juggled periods of darkness--when the phenomenon is best observed--with dates we could get away (i.e., periods of lightness), Vieques became our first stop.

In all, we spent almost two days on Vieques, kayaking, snorkeling and exploring all but the eastern end of the island, which had been a U.S. Navy test range until a year earlier.  
Noah at the hotel on Vieques.
Vicki holding down a palm tree.
Warren struggling to navigate mangrove in a kayak.
The evening we swam, splashed and pumped an empty plastic bottle, drawing in, releasing and causing the bioluminescent waters of Mosquito Bay to glow, is one we will never forget--even Noah.

 Alas, I have no photographs. We were too engrossed and didn’t have the proper equipment anyway. As a consolation prize, I offer two links to websites that focus on bioluminescent bays. The second has links to much additional information, including a moon calendar.

Missed This One

Puerto Rico’s third bioluminescent bay is near Fajardo, on the main island’s east coast. The brightness (i.e., population of luminescent microorganisms) of Fajardo’s bay falls between that of Vieques and La Parguera. Although we ferried to Vieques from Fajardo, we didn’t visit the bay.
Ferry between Fajardo and Vieques.

Wrap Up

Our trip was a keeper and I haven’t even listed our other stops. (Stay tuned for Photo Addenda.) Because we took that vacation several years ago, the only travel recommendation I’ll offer is: Go see a bioluminescent bay!

Oh, and plan ahead; not like Giovanni and I did it.

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll write again in about a week.

1 comment:

  1. 10 06 11

    Lovely, aren't they? One evening in the Gulf of Thailand, our small boat left a luminescent bow wave so bright you could read a newspaper by it.