What comes to mind when you hear Bioluminescent Bay? A bay made of lights? A bay that lights up? That’s exactly what it is. Vieques, Puerto Rico is an island-municipality of Puerto Rico in the northwestern part of the Caribbean. This is home to the brightest bay in the world. A bioluminescent bay illuminates because of the plankton in it. During the day, they absorb all the sun light they can get and at night, when the plankton are touched, they release the light that they have kept in…it’s someone a chemical reaction. The best time to visit the bay is at night, with no moon…it’s truly a sight that NO picture can justify! I visited the bay in spring of 2008 and it’s an experience that I will always remember.
To create a bioluminescent bay, you need a lagoon surrounded by Red Mangroves. The roots of the trees release tannins that are rich in Vitamin B12, which is one of the most important nutrients for the plankton. The rotting Mangrove leaves also deposit a lot of other key nutrients. They bay must also be clean…no pollution. You’re not supposed to swim in the bay simply because of the oils that your skin holds. The bay must have a relatively deep depth because it has to be able to stay cool enough during the day time, although, it does stay slightly warmer than the ocean water around it. This particular bay has the channel connecting to the ocean at the windward end which may also serve as a restriction of the outflow of the plankton, and that is another contributing factor to it being the brightest of the bioluminescent bays.
The intensity of the luminescence of the plankton is strongly influenced by the amount of sunlight from the previous day. The more sunlight they take in, the brighter the flash. The plankton only light up when they are disturbed. The production of light in the bioluminescent organisms results from results from the conversion of chemical energy to light energy. Bioluminescent fish are common in ocean depths; the light aids in species recognition in the darkness. Other animals benefit from this, too…they use it for mating and deterring predators. Bioluminescence has been present for millions of years in the sea as evidenced by the various distinct chemical mechanisms by which light is given off and the large number of distantly related taxonomic groups that have several bioluminescent members.
So you might be wondering…How do you get out to the bay if you can’t touch the water? You take a kayak down this narrow stream of mangroves. It’s really neat. Usually they take about 15 out at a time, and you have to go late. You realize you’re getting into the bay because the ripples of the water at the tip of your boat light up…it’s a magical scene! You can see all the fish and shrimp swimming underneath you, too. No picture or story can do the justification of how amazing it is, other than going there yourself, so if you ever get the chance…TAKE IT!