Mosquito Bay, also known as the Bioluminescent
Bay, on the south coast of Vieques is undoubtedly the healthiest
and best example of a bioluminescent bay in the world. With
the slightest agitation of the water tiny bioluminescent creatures
emit an electric bluish white light.
To access the bay by land you can either enter
through the gate at Sun Bay or use the public entrance, which
is the dirt track that lies just north of Sun Bay on Highway
Sun Bay Access (Playa de
Public Access site
Fish swimming in the bay leave a bioluminescent
trail as do boats, raindrops and people swimming. This phenomenon
of bioluminescence is so intense, so awe-inspiringly beautiful
and so dependable that Mosquito Bay in Vieques, also called
the Bioluminescent Bay or the Bio Bay, could easily be called
the eighth wonder of the world.
The organisms responsible for bioluminescence
are called dinoflagellates. They can be found in all waters
of the ocean as plankton, tiny organisms that live just below
the ocean's surface. They have the ability to move via a whip-like
tail, but are so small they travel at the mercy of the winds,
waves, currents and tides.
Special characteristics of certain bays throughout
the world create conditions in which dinoflagellates will concentrate
and flourish. Mosquito Bay in Vieques is a perfect example of
such a bay.
The mouth of the bay is situated in such a way
that the prevailing winds and currents easily allow ocean water
to enter the bay. It is also quite shallow at the entrance so
that only the surface waters, which are abundant in plankton,
flow into the bay. A relatively narrow channel winds into a
large shallow mangrove lagoon downwind from the entrance.
Here the bioluminescent organisms will concentrate
because they can't get out of the bay. They're too small and
not fast enough swimmers to find their way upstream snaking
through the channel to return to the open ocean. Nor would they
want to, because the conditions in the Bio Bay's mangrove lagoon
are just right for them.
The entire bay is encircled by mangroves whose
leaves are constantly falling into the water. These rotting
leaves provide a perfect diet for the dinoflagellates.
Moreover, the salinity of the water is perfectly
suitable to the dinoflagellates. It is kept within their narrow
tolerance levels because of the presence of lagunas or salt
ponds just behind the mangrove lagoon that collect water during
periods of high tides and during intense rains and filter the
fresh water back slowly afterward.
Another important factor is that there is no significant
quebrada or fresh water stream leading into the bio bay that
could lower the salinity to undesirable levels. Human contamination
from sewage, a factor which has seriously degraded a bioluminescent
bay on the Big Island, which was once a rival to Mosquito Bay,
is not a problem in Vieques, and hopefully never will be.
1969 Navy Plans for the
Bioluminescent Bay (Puerto Mosquito)
Tests have shown that the Bioluminescent Bay in
Vieques contains as many as 720,000 bioluminescent organisms
per gallon of water. This concentration is so great that if
you splash the water you will cause them to emit enough light
so that you could read the print on a book in the dead of night.
Dinoflagellates are non-toxic and you can get
in the Bio Bay and swim around with them, and your whole body
will be encircled by an unbelievable aura of light. If you splash
water on your hair it will drip crystals of light like tiny
sparkling jewels. If you bang on the sides of your kayak and
scare the fish you will see the streaks of light they make underwater
as they dart away from the sound. If it starts to rain, the
whole bay will light up.
Truly an amazing experience!
There are several tour operators on Vieques through
which you can arrange a visit to the Bio Bay either by kayak
or on an electrically powered boat.
A Night at the Bioluminescent Bay
One night Habiba and I went to the Bio Bay with Abe, (Abe's
Snorkeling and Bio Bay Tours) a really cool guide who has
been going out to the bio bay since he was a kid and who really
appreciates all it has to offer. We put our kayaks in at a beach
called Playa de Don Flor that is accessible from the Sun Bay
We get in our kayaks and begin to paddle. There
is no moon and it is almost totally dark. It is really dark.
That is, if you don't move.
But we are moving.
And everything and I mean everything is glowing
and sparkling in electric greenish and bluish white light. The
hulls of the kayaks and the paddles are on fire, and even the
water dripping off the paddles stirs up the bioluminescence
and little drops of light fall through the air like sparklers
on the Fourth of July.
Surreal … totally.
And the fish are leaving twisting psychedelic
jet streams behind them as they shoot away from the intruders
into their territory. And some of the fish are pretty big. Even
some sting rays. And they make a big light. What a trip!
Then we stop and are silent. The stars are shining above us
and the air is crisp. It's a perfectly clear amazingly beautiful
summer night and the three of us, Habiba, Abe and I, are there,
in Mosquito Bay, in Vieques, in the Caribbean and on the beautiful
planet that we are fortunate enough to inhabit. And we stop
to catch our breath and we easily fall into a quiet meditation,
listening to the sounds of the night, with millions of stars
shining above us and casting their reflection onto the calm
waters of the bay.