Friday, December 20, 2013

Bioluminescent (Mosquito) Bay

If you happen to go to Vieques, you will undoubtedly hear about the amazing Bioluminescent (Bio) Bay Kayak Tour.

"What is the Bio Bay?" you ask. Well, according to the Wikipedia page, certain waters around Puerto Rico have a high concentration of a micro-organism that glows (like a firefly) when something interacts with it. As a result, you can see a neon blue glow when you move through the water.

Obviously, you should try to observe the phenomenon at night, particularly when there's not a full moon. Unfortunately, our entire stay in Vieques (December 13-17) was at the exact time leading up to the full moon - the WORST time to try to see Bio Bay.

But we didn't want to leave Vieques without even trying to see Bio Bay (especially since they had my grandmother with us to babysit me for the evening), so my parents scheduled a tour through the hotel's concierge staff. Many outfitters will not even have a tour on the nights near the full moon, but the W Concierge knew which one uses large canopies to cover the kayakers and shield the moon light. For $40/person (cash), my parents could take their chances. So on Saturday morning (Dec 14), they booked a reservation for later that evening.

We didn't have a rental car that night, so they needed transportation from the W Retreat (A on the map) to the meet up point on the southern end of the island (B). The W Concierge also took care of that. For $10/person (round trip), my parents would be picked up at 6PM from the hotel lobby in a van where they could leave their personal things.

They advised us that we'd be in the water on kayaks, so my parents arrived prepared in their bathing suits and clothes that they didn't mind getting wet. My father asked the front desk for some towels which they were happy to provide. He also brought along some eco-friendly bug repellent, because they read about why they call it Mosquito Bay. At 6:00PM, the van arrived right on time, and my adventurous parents were joined by another young couple staying the W.

They all drove the 20 minutes to the meeting point (a dark parking lot) where other vans from other hotels gathered. From there, my father paid the $40/person fee and were consolidated with everyone else into a single van that went down the dirt road towards the bay. I'm glad I wasn't there, because my father said I would have been pretty scared driving in the dark with complete strangers. I've seen enough Homeland to know how these situations can end up.

But before you knew it, my parents had arrived at the beach where kayaks and guides were waiting for them. Everyone was paired up into 2-person kayak teams and outfitted with life vests and purple glow sticks to attach to their backs. Of course, it was dark at night, so their point & click camera was pretty useless, but here's also what Mosquito Bay looks like during the daytime.

 Photos of Bioluminescent (Mosquito) Bay, Isla de Vieques

The right photo of Bioluminescent (Mosquito) Bay is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Each tour guide kayaked out taking two pairs each, giving them the ecological and scientific context to better appreciate the neon blue glowing phenomenon. Despite having a bright full moon above them, each stroke in the water did yield a strong blue color.

After kayaking towards the red mangrove trees whose roots tangled and intertwined to form makeshift land, the guide explained how the micro-organisms feed on the nutrients provided by these plants. Also, the unique physical properties of the bay (deep and cool water, with limited in/out flows) allowed for a large concentration of the micro-organisms.

From there, my parents kayaked out deeper into the bay and gathered closer together with the other boats, while the guide remained in the middle opening up the large parachute to shield everyone from the moonlight above. Fortunately for my parents, it was also a bit cloudy and overcast that evening as well.

Under the canopy, they dipped their hands into the water and activated the neon blue glow.

Perhaps not the most amazing thing they've ever seen, but it was still pretty cool to experience first hand. To be fair, keep in mind that this photo here doesn't capture the full vibrancy of the blue color because of the camera's flash. It's much better in person.

WARNING: if you already googled "bioluminescent bay" and looked at the photos, keep in mind that these pictures are photoshopped to enhance the color. The real experience will likely not be that strong of a glow as the Google images suggest, so you're not doing yourself a favor by getting your hopes up.

In case you don't want to go all the way to Vieques to see bio bays, you have a few other options in Puerto Rico, though they say Vieques is the best given the limited interaction with civilization.

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