The Glimmering Biobay

By Kayla Camenzind

And the beaches are beautiful. White sand, bath-like warm water, and light, lapping waves. But, the real attraction is Mosquito Bay, widely considered the most beautiful bioluminescent bay in the world. There are five bioluminescent (or biobays) in the world with three found in Puerto Rico. They are fragile ecosystems which host a vast population of single-celled, microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates. When agitated by, for example, a fish or a hand dipping in the water, dinoflagellates release energy and light up like tiny little stars in the water. These organisms are found all over the ocean, but in the five biobays, the populations are so great that we it seems as though the water glows when you touch it.

Mosquito Bay is a special biobay because of its narrow opening to the ocean, leaving the dinoflagellates in a calm environment. The water has over 720,000 microorganisms per gallon of water, the highest population density of the glowing dinoflagellates in the world. Although each organism is very tiny and can only be seen with a microscope, when mashed together with thousands of other organisms the effect is small glowing dots like stars in the water.

When visiting Vieques, I knew I had to see the biobay. We set up the tour through the bartender at our hostel, who told us, "I'll hook you up with Zeeno. He'll give you a deal." We soon realized Zeeno wasn't a "kayak tour guide" of the bay, per se - he was just a guy with some kayaks.

Zeeno collected us at around midnight in the middle of a thunderstorm and shortly after the electricity had gone out. Seven of us piled into his rickety, dirty old jeep with no air conditioning and he whisked us away down a dark, dirt road littered with deep pot holes.

Upon arrival at the bay, Zeeno ran into the surrounding trees and fetched some kayaks he had stowed away. With a life jacket fasted on tight and paddle in hand, we jumped into the kayaks and ventured into the glowing bay.

Each time I stuck my paddle in the water to row, the water lit up like a miniature galaxy. The organisms glowed bright yellow and lasted for just a second after I withdrew my paddle. The water around the kayak shimmered. I stuck my hand in the water and splash some down my leg, watching a waterfall of stars trickle down. Every once in a while a fish would swim by and make a weaving trail of lights.

When we arrived in the middle of the bay - the middle from what I could tell at least, as the electricity was out and it was pitch black other than the glowing bay - Zeeno told us we could swim. "Just don't swim too long though, I think there might be a biting fish here tonight," he said. We quickly hopped in and observed the glow around us before climbing back in the kayaks.

On our way back to the dock, Zeeno let the truth slip. "Oh there's that shark I saw earlier. You see it, over there?" Shark?! He said there were biting fish, but we had not been warned about a shark. "Oh, it's just a small shark. Really harmless," he said casually. To calm myself, I focused on the glimmering water as I paddled.

I returned to my hostel alive and in one piece, thankful to have survived the trip to tell the tale.