One of the most beautiful wonders of nature in the entire world is located on the tiny island of Vieques, off the far eastern tip of Puerto Rico. This tropical island is surrounded by a lot of history, beautiful beaches, great food and one of the most amazing things you can see in the entire world – a magnificent bioluminescent bay.
Mosquito Bay is considered magical by many. It’s also the brightest bioluminescent bay remaining in the entire world. Lucky for me, I got to experience it first-hand during my internship for Weddings in Vieques. Sandy likes all of us to learn as much as possible about what makes Vieques Island special so that we can have intelligent conversations about it with the wedding guests.
I must confess that, being from Puerto Rico, I’ve grown up in paradise, surrounded by the most awesome natural beauty you could imagine. But truth be told, there is nothing on the big island that compares to the bio bay on Vieques. Trust me, I know. I’m an aficionado on all things worth visiting in Puerto Rico.
No really, I was playing with the glowing water like a small child during the entire kayak tour. Abe’s Snorkeling not only guided us onto the water, but they taught us all about what we were seeing, what makes it happen, and what we need to do to preserve it. I’d say it’s the thing I miss most about leaving Vieques, but just to make you jealous, I can jump on the ferry or a little airplane and go back any time I feel like it. It’s always there because it’s a wonder of nature.
For the curious, and the science lovers like me, here’s some interesting information about what makes a bio bay glow.
A bioluminescent bay (or “bio bay” as I referred to it all summer as a Vieques local) is a rare and fragile ecosystem. There is bioluminescence all over the world, but few places can be classified as an actual “bio bay.” In fact, there are only seven accessible bio bays in the world and Puerto Rico has THREE of them. #BraggingRights
While the bioluminescence resides in the bay all of the time, you can only see it after dark, and it’s best viewed with less than a full moon. The organisms glow when the water is agitated, by the paddle of a kayak, a splash of your hand, or the zip of fish swimming by your boat as you glide on past. Anything that moves in the water lights up like a neon sign.
The microscopic organism responsible for the glow in the water (when agitated) is a part of the family Dinoflagellata, a unicellular organism with two flagella that allow it to move through the water. The most common protozoan in the bio bay waters is the Pyrodinium Bahamense.
Vieques’ Mosquito Bay, in particular, has a very narrow opening to the Caribbean Sea, which offers excellent protection from winds and tides that can affect other bays, and this protection lets the Dinoflagellates thrive in a calm environment. There are between 500 and thousands of the organisms per gallon of water; in fact no other bio bay in the world comes close to this level of concentration. Also, the mangroves surrounding the entire Vieques bay provide a vital source of nutrients for the organisms. Of course, the great climate here helps too.
The Puerto Rico Department of Environmental and Natural Resources regulates the usage of the bio bay, issuing permits to legitimate companies to take tourists to see the glowing waters. Because of regulations that exist to protect the bay, tour groups may not swim in the water. Sunscreen, bug repellant and other chemical substances that we humans have all over our bodies (and don’t even think about) are detrimental to the health of the bay. That means you can only visit the beautiful bay in kayaks or on an electric boat (nothing gas powered is permitted there). It’s important to make sure that this magical place is 100-percent protected.
Last spring, Vieques’ bio bay went dark for a few months as a result of the weather and other naturally occurring changes to the environment. This has happened before – it’s a cycle – and after a few weeks, it slowly began to brighten again. For a short time, trips were restricted to a certain number of guests per night on certain nights of the week, but before the end of August, the bay was re-opened and everything is glowing brightly again. Those who saw it before and after say, if anything, the water is even brighter!
The Secretary of the Natural Resources Department in Puerto Rico recently confirmed to the media that the bioluminescent bay in Vieques is fully restored. According to their studies, the short-term problem that caused the diminishing brightness was caused by waves, lack of rain during of winter months, and unusually strong currents. The lack of rain was the biggest problem because that is one of the biggest nutrients that the Dinoflagellates need to produce the glow.
The bio bay is something you cannot miss when you visit Vieques. Make sure you make reservations with one of the legal businesses. I recently heard a story from a couple that signed up for an illegal tour on their last night here and didn’t get to see the bay at all! Don’t risk it. There are serious fines involved for violators of the rules. And end of day, there’s a reason this precious natural resource is being so closely monitored and protected. Don’t be an eco-villain!
Truth is that I can’t wait to come back with my friends and family who think they’ve seen a bio bay already because they’ve been to the ones on the big island. I’m going to MAKE them visit the most beautiful bio bay in the entire world. I can confirm that the bio bay is back and shinier than ever – and for a $2 ferry ride from the big island, no Puerto Rican has any excuse to have never visited.
Believe me when I say nobody should miss the chance to see one of the most beautiful gifts of nature on this planet. Enjoy!
Janice I. Martínez Díaz, Intern at Weddings in Vieques