Creatures that Glow: My Adventures in a Bioluminescent Bay . . .
“Mom, you’re glowing in the dark,” says a high-pitched squeaky voice in my ear. I look down at my arms and thighs as I push up through the waves lapping at my feet, and discover they’re covered in shimmering stardust. Off to the left and through the swaying palms, I catch an occasional glimpse of the rising moon as it emerges from the ocean, full in its glory, beginning as a huge, bright, orange-gold globe slowly fading to a mother-of-pearl disc as it rises higher and higher in the velvety night sky. Suddenly, the bay is lit by millions of illuminating microorganisms adding their bright light to the moon’s pearly white shine, turning the water around us to a glistening blue glow.
Welcome to Jamaica’s luminous lagoon!
What is bioluminescence?
The “luminous lagoon” effect is created by bioluminescent dinoflagellates. These small protists are single-celled organisms that have two tails (hence their name) and glow a bright blue when agitated. They thrive where a fresh water source (the Martha Brae) meets the ocean water, known as brackish water, and this naturally occurs in only a few places around the world. It is thought that the bioluminescence is part of a defense mechanism by the dinoflagellates that highlights and repels any predator.
Our paddling in the warm shallow waters of the lagoon caused most of the bioluminescence we saw that night. It is impressive on it’s own—the sparkles are like exploding diamonds that lasts for milliseconds—but that’s it! Don’t expect a brilliant light show. That’s for the Northern Lights! (read my blog post here: http://www.anoopjudge.com/blog/the-inside-edition-to-iceland-part-1
What to bring?
1. A good quality camera is needed, but you are not allowed to use a flash;
3. Water shoes;
4. Bug spray
Taking photographs of the luminous lagoon is very challenging. You can forget about selfies or any shots taken by yourself when you are in the water. The only way to capture a photo of the bioluminescence on camera is to use a tripod and take a long-exposure shot, capturing the millions of tiny millisecond-long glows that make up the illumination. The doctored images you see online or that scene in ‘Life of Pai’ when the ocean lights up—”That’s computer graphics, Ma,” explains my engineer son.
The good news is there’s a photographer on the tour aptly named “Paparazzi” who can take your photos for you (for a price, of course.)
A note of caution: use the bug spray after you get out of the water because you’ll be itchy. Whether it’s the microorganisms, mosquitoes or jellyfish that cause you to scratch your skin, some bug spray will save you hours of discomfort that follows a dip in the lagoon.
Where to go?
There are five bioluminescent bays in the world: Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica, Halong Bay in Vietnam, and Puerto Rico’s Laguna Grande, La Parguera, and Mosquito Bay. If you have a chance to visit any of these places, you should book a bioluminescent tour. It will bring a smile to your face because it’s like playing with stars!
Quickly skim the top with your hand to splash water and create a rainfall of light. Slowly drag your hand through the water to see a shower of stardust fall away. The faster you move, the brighter the water glows a bright fluorescent blue. You’re reminded once again that nothing trumps nature!