Joyful Adventures: A Night in the Bioluminescent Bay

Joyful Adventures: A Night in the Bioluminescent Bay

“Some 4,000 years ago a band of Archaic Indians worshiped the gods of this bay, who provide food by day and green fire at night. Today visitors come not to worship but to marvel at Mosquito Bay, and to swim in its eerily glowing waters after dark. That’s when the gods — tiny bioluminescent organisms thriving near the surface — reveal themselves.” ~ Tom Verde, “Worth Saving,” Travel and Leisure, November 1993

I rediscovered inner peace when I was baptized naked in a shower of shooting stars at the bio-luminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Here, where there are up to 720,000 dinoflagellates per gallon of water in the bay with a narrow mouth, I experienced the biggest miracle of nature I have experienced in my life thus far. It was a spiritual, prayerful night for me.

Barbara Flanagan wrote in EcoTraveler (May 1996),

“Vieques’ Puerto Mosquito Bay boasts one of the world’s largest, brightest concentrations of dinoflagellates (single-celled pyrodinium). Sharon Grasso, who ferries visitors here in her electric boat, says the micro-organisms are attracted to the abundance of mangroves and the limited sea access… Nighttime swimmers, fish or human, make glittery trails through the black water.”

These micro-organisms which populate the bay glow when activated by motion, like fireflies, only underwater. Imagine swimming amongst millions of fireflies! When you move your hand through the water they emit a phosphorescent glow.

When you swim underwater you create, for those watching from the boat, a butterfly of neon light. It is scientific, yet nothing short of  miraculous. Tom Verde described the process in his 1993 article, “Worth Saving,”

“Mosquito Bay’s glow comes from dinoflagellates, microscopic underwater organisms that release energy in the form of light, much the way fireflies do. Several dinoflagellates species are found in oceans worldwide: on the U.S. Atlantic coast, the waters around Borneo and the Sea of Japan. Although in some places bioluminescence is seasonal, Mosquito Bay glows year-round, thanks to a plentiful population of the species Pyrodinium bahamense, whose name means “whirling fire.” Only 1/500 inch in diameter, these organisms flash when agitated, as a defense mechanism. Each flash lasts only 1/10 second, yet the collective greenish blue radiance can be seen for miles.” ~ Tom Verde, “Worth Saving,” Travel and Leisure, November 1993

The wake of the boat is a glowing mass of foam, as Verde describes:

“The first thing you notice is the wake — a luminous, emerald path of foam lingering below the stern. There are other boats here on Mosquito Bay at night, but you can barely see them — only their wakes, glowing like the lights of distant cities. Suddenly, there’s a flash of the blow. A startled porgy bursts through the water, leaving a cometlike trail. Then another. And another. Soon the water explodes with porgies, mullets, and halfbeaks in an underwater fireworks display.” ~ Wild Places by Tom Verde, “Travel and Leisure,” 1993

The experience is awe-inspiring from the stern, watching the fish flash across the bay. Yet the miracles multiply when you dive into the phosphorescent waters. I have never experienced such a moment before, floating in one of the world’s wonders, glowing as though swimming in the night sky.

When you lift your arms out of the water, they are covered in what looks like falling stars, small points of light. When you pour water over your head, your hair and face are covered in those stars. You are awash in bright particles of light.

When you float in the water and tilt back your head you hear a clicking noise that you imagine could be hundreds of thousands of those phosphorescent creatures. I later learned from bio bay tour guide Billy, who came to Vieques on vacation four years ago and never left, that it is the sound of shrimp clacking on the bottom of the bay.

It is a clicking sound like no other I’ve heard before, more like cicadas or crickets than what you would expect under the surface of the water.

I am transported by the beauty of it and decide to remove my bikini top to feel that my whole body is bathed in stars. I remove my bikini bottom. I am surrounded everywhere by glowing stars. I am bathing in light. When I climb back into the boat at long last and squeeze the water from my hair, a cascade of stars falls back into the water.

I feel as though I am inside a miracle. I am part of a miracle. I am, we are, a miracle.

I am suddenly reminded that who I am, the miracle that I have been given life, is enough, and that I need simply to give myself over to a higher power to make the most of this miraculous journey here on earth. I am reminded that life on earth is much more than the everyday, more than we can see with our eyes or hear with our ears.

There is a realm of the spirit that guides us, I believe, to be the best that we can personally be, to live life the way it is meant to be lived, fully and gloriously each day. I am reminded that to breathe is a miracle, to love one another is a miracle, just to be is a miracle indeed.

I am reminded that I need to hold and keep this peace. I am reminded that to do the work I need to do and to love the people in my life is enough. That joy is enough.

I am reminded that each one of us is made of light. To find a way to shine that light so it lights our way and lights the path of others is a challenge we all face. When I find myself hiding my light, or burning it too brightly, when I feel that life is overwhelming me in details and tasks, when I forget the importance of patience or how to breathe, I will return myself to the sanctuary of the bio bay.

There, the small gods of light brought me back to myself. There, baptized by green fire, I found peace, the still center in the heart of me. I thank the gods of the biobay for returning me to this peace:

Gracias a Dios para la vida, la luz, la paz, para todo, siempre. 

Lisa

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Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. Her dream is to publish this first book and teach the world how to discover their hidden joy. Her post day is Tuesday.
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