Bioluminescence, Puerto Rico, Vieques

February 3, 2012 at 21:29 Leave a comment

I have been lucky enough to go the Biobay in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Picture by John Morgali (Thank you John!)

Here a description of the phenomena from
To create a bioluminescent bay you need a lagoon surrounded by Red Mangroves (which occur in the tropics and semi tropics only). The roots of the red mangroves release tannins that are rich in Vitamin B12, one of the important nutrients for these light emitting dinoflagellates. The decomposing mangrove leaves release many other nutrients which add to the nutrient rich environment.
The Bay must also be relatively free of pollution, which generally requires protected lands surrounding the bay. Special zoning for all the land in the watershed of the biobay is essential. The zoning must assure sufficient forest cover to hold back the sediment whenever there is significant rain.
The Bay requires enough size and depth to enable the water to stay relatively cool in the daytime, it does, however, remain warmer than the ocean outside. It also requires a restrictive channel to the ocean, with a relatively small tidal exchange. This biobay has the channel to the ocean at the windward end of the bay which may also serve to restrict the outflow of the dinoflagellates to the sea as the tide goes out, while allowing sufficient water exchange to avoid overheating and stagnancy.
Any alterations to the size of the channel to the ocean (such as shallower or deeper or wider) can destroy a biobay. Pollution flowing into the bay from chemicals in groundwater and flood waters can ruin a biobay. Sufficient fluorocarbons from motorboats adversely affects the bioluminescent dinoflagellates, as would waste from any boats anchored in the bay. People swimming, who have sprayed themselves with DEET, adversely affect the biobay.
Lights seen from the bay and ambient light in the sky ( reflected from clouds) greatly reduce the visibility of the bioluminescence at night. It is a real treat to be in the biobay when the electricity goes out on the island! It is also considerably better to see the biobay when there is no moon visible in the sky.
So why is this particular biobay (perhaps) the brightest in the world? Because all these factors are perfectly balanced, creating ideal circumstances for a constant ‘super bloom’ of Pyrodinium bahamense dinoflagellates, over 700,000 per gallon of water!


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