Home / World / Vieques bioluminescent wonder: Paddling in trippy Mosquito Bay

Vieques bioluminescent wonder: Paddling in trippy Mosquito Bay

Vieques, Puerto Rico (CNN) – As we look down into the undisturbed black water under a new moon, small needle points of light match, almost like a star field below the star field above.

Each paddle print creates a tear drop glow, and the rippling crests of water flash in the dark.

It's hard to resist splashing your paddling mate. When you do, you will see that individual dinoflagellates continue to shoot for about 10 seconds after the first powerful glow, creating intermittent sparks.

These little sparkles lead to some strange, drug-free hand staring.

This dazzling, triple travel wonder is Mosquito Bay, the world's brightest bioluminescent bay. It is on Puerto Rica Island Vieques, seven miles off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico's main island.

Tranquil Vieques suffered extensive damage from Hurricane Maria 201

7, and some destruction has not been repaired. But Mosquito Bay itself has more than recovered.

"Guides and researchers say it glows better than ever," according to Mark Martin of the conservation group Vieques Island Trust.

  Dinoflagellates in the water create an eerie bioluminescence.

Dinoflagellates in the water create an eerie bioluminescence.

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Bay Returns

Abe Velasquez runs a tour company at Vieques offering snorkeling and bioluminescent kayaking tours.

Velasquez lost his own home in the storm and stopped making water trips for almost nine months after Mary as the glowing dinoflagellate population had subsided. (A dinoflagellate is a single-celled aquatic organism with plant and animal characteristics).

But now he says that the bay is "much brighter" than it was before Mary.

Pyrodinium bahamense is the dinoflagellate responsible for the bioluminescence of mosquito Bay. As the name suggests, the small organisms are found in the Bahamas and throughout the Caribbean, but they are usually not concentrated enough to get people's attention.

Samples show that during 2017, there were 100,000 dinoflagellates per liter in Mosquito Bay, a time when the bay was already known as the brightest in the world.

The population declined to the end of 2017 after Maria, but the number started bouncing back and nailed to almost 600,000 Pyrodinium bahamense per liter in June 2018. Concentration has returned, but levels are still higher than before Hurricane Maria.

  Stirring of the water causes the small organisms to glow.

Stirring of the water causes the small organisms to glow.

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The Bay's Best Show

Swimming in the water is forbidden to avoid exposing dinoflagellates to harmful human urine, but you can dip your hands to create glowing swirls and splashes.

The brightness is relative to how much you agitate the water. A harder blow gives more light. A cloudy new moon is optimal for seeing the bioluminescence.

Paddling near the mangroves on a dark, moonless night, large glowing zigzag patterns emerge and disappear into the water like fish darts to escape approaching kayaks.

Nurse sharks, rays and even manatees are sometimes in the bay – described by eerie, glowing sparks.

The guides say that the mosquito bay is not named after the blood-sucking insect, but after a pirate ship named El Mosquito. Rejection without the harmful chemical DEET seems to keep insects away.

  Vieques is also home to a number of peaceful beaches.

Vieques is also home to a number of peaceful beaches.

Wes Little / CNN

Attractions over the island

While Vieques has two small towns, Isabel Segunda in the north and Esparanza in the south, the island is mostly uninhabited.

For decades, Vieques served as a bombing area for the US Navy for exercise and testing. After years of protests in Vieques, as well as significant demonstrations in New York and elsewhere, the bombing ended in 2003.

The former bombing area was transformed into a wildlife sanctuary covering half the island. The retreat is open to visitors during the day and is home to some spectacular beaches.

An alternative is La Chiva, an excellent beach for snorkeling with a small dock for swimming. Playa Caracas is another easily accessible, beautiful white sandy beach. If you prefer black sand, they also have it at Playa Negra.

Horses roam freely throughout the island.

Some are really wild, but many are domesticated, owned, free-range horses. The waters contain many aquatic animals including sea turtles. On land they have iguanas and mongooses (but no snakes due to mongooses).

Getting to Vieques can be an extra adventure. Regular pool jumper flights are available from San Juan and some closer locations in Puerto Rico.

The cheaper alternative is to arrive by ferry – with passengers and vehicle service available.

Movements that pertain to illness, choose your poison: a slower slope ferry or a faster bob plane. Anyway, what you find on Vieques is well worth the trip.

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