Vieques – Bioluminescence

Took a little time to get away to Vieques, a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, about 20 minutes by plane from San Juan.  For decades, much of the island was used by the US military as a proving ground for artillery, with the result that it was never developed as a tourist destination.  It remains a very quiet and undeveloped spot now that the bombing has been halted (decades of agitation achieved the goal in 2003) although some, not all! are hoping for a big uptick in development.

Those who are hoping against casinos and resorts are the ones who treasure the island as a little bit of relatively unspoiled nature.  The place reminds me of my days in Goa, many years ago, but without the people.  At least, when we were there, it was not hopping at all, although the high season starts after Christmas.  How high it gets, I don’t know.

Besides the beautiful beaches with calm water and fine sand, Vieques is known for the ‘bio-bay’, or Mosquito Bay (not for bugs, but for pirate ship that used to hide there) which has the highest concentration of bio-luminescent creatures of anyplace in the world.  These microscopic organisms produce bright light when they are disturbed – nobody knows why for sure.  If you have ever taken a cruise in warm waters at night and peered over the bow, you may have seen flashes of light from the bow wave that are caused by these critters – they are not rare, but this bay is remarkable.

At night, paddling through the water on kayaks, the bright stars above, and the water totally dark, any movement disturbs the Pyrodinium bahamense dinoflagellates, which causes quite a show.  The paddles pierce the dark surface of the bay and are surrounded by a bright glow.  If you shake your hand in the water, everywhere there is white light.  Fish darting below the surface of the water leave streaks like meteorites crashing through the atmosphere.  Pounding on the side of the kayak sends out a pressure wave causing every creature within twenty feet to glow brightly.  If you scoop up the water and let it run down your arms, it looks as if you are covered in glowing molten metal.

Swimming in the bay is prohibited!  We took an excellent tour of the area led by Abey, son of Abe, who is one of those folks happy to see development held at bay.  He even is happy the military was there for so long – it kept the bay and other areas undisturbed.  He rants about the evils of urban life a lot, but seemed to accept my comment that romantic nature lovers are all born in the city.  If you go, give them a call:  they really know the territory!

Ghost Crabs will keep you company…

And speaking of nature, here’s an old video:

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