This article is over 5 years old and may contain outdated information.

Science & Tech

Paddling through Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent waters

A night tour of Mosquito Bay’s glowing fish
  • Feb 28, 2014
  • 316 words
  • 2 minutes
Bioluminescent life Expand Image
Advertisement
Map Expand Image
(Map: Chris Brackley/Canadian Geographic.)

I set out under the cover of night, paddling my kayak through the mangroves of Puerto Rico’s Mosquito Bay until I am clear of the shore. At first the water is a black sheet, its only light the stars reflecting on its surface. But as I move on, I notice another light, a strange aura of dull blue that forms around my paddle with every thrust.

The bay, located on the south coast of Vieques, a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico’s main island, is one of the world’s best places to see bioluminescence, the light that species such as fireflies emit. A tablespoon of water from the bay — which the U.S. National Park Service has designated as a national natural landmark — contains as many as 6,000 dinoflagellates, single-celled organisms that glow in the dark when disturbed.

The creatures are very sensitive to their environment: another similar bay near Fajardo, on Puerto Rico’s northeast coast, recently made international news when it nearly went dark, possibly because of run-off from the construction of a nearby water and sewage plant.

The bioluminescence in Mosquito Bay, however, remains undimmed. During my late-night kayak tour, I see the paths of dozens of fish as they shoot like blue tracers back and forth through the murky water. The guide tells me that even sharks come into the bay, and although I don’t spot one, I can imagine the rush of watching its large, electric-blue outline pass near the kayak.

I spend the next week walking the colonial-era ramparts of old San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, and island hopping, bouncing over world-class beaches such as Playa Flamenco on short plane rides. The sunshine and surf are great, yet I can’t help but feel that the true highlights of the coastline were best seen at night.

Advertisement

Are you passionate about Canadian geography?

You can support Canadian Geographic in 3 ways:

Related Content

Science & Tech

UN declares International Day of Women in Science

From Roberta Bondar to Harriet Brooks, Canada has more than its fair share of women scientists to be proud of. However women are still a minority in the STEM fields

  • 472 words
  • 2 minutes

Environment

Healthy rivers: Communities use DNA tool to keep tabs on freshwater quality

Many of Canada’s 25 watersheds are under threat from pollution, habitat degradation, water overuse and invasive species

  • 996 words
  • 4 minutes

Science & Tech

Track record: why geotracking technology helps us find, and lose, our sense of place

As geotracking technology on our smartphones becomes ever more sophisticated, we’re just beginning to grasps its capabilities (and possible pitfalls)

  • 4685 words
  • 19 minutes

People & Culture

With old traditions and new tech, young Inuit chart their changing landscape

For generations, hunting, and the deep connection to the land it creates, has been a mainstay of Inuit culture. As the coastline changes rapidly—reshaping the marine landscape and jeopardizing the hunt—Inuit youth are charting ways to preserve the hunt, and their identity. 

  • 5346 words
  • 22 minutes