There are three “bioluminescence bays” in Puerto Rico – unique in that the glittery plankton are visible year round. Last night, the nerd herd at this workshop made the trek to Fajardo, on the northeast end of the island.
Since the workshop is focused on bio-inspired and bio-derived electronics and optics, naturally the final speaker of the morning session was an international expert on natural bioluminescence in water critters.
Gathering in the hotel lobby around 4pm, wearing water sandals and swim gear, clutching boxed dinners to be eaten on the transport vans, we looked like a troupe of over-grown school children headed out on a field trip. About an hour in the shuttle from San Juan to Fajardo, further east.
We suited up in life jackets, and got a 15 minute kayaking instruction session from Miguel, our guide. Interesting that the kayak lesson was one third of the time we devoted to the lecture from the marine biologist. We’re geeks, not athletes.
Heading out at dusk, we crossed the marina in double kayaks, and entered a narrow channel encrusted with mangroves. Being dorks, we naturally did a bit of horsing around en route. Cries of “ramming speed”, bad pirate impersonations and the occasional “But Captain, I’m giving her all I’ve got…” floated down the column of nerd-kayakers.
We reached La Laguna Grande, just at sunset. We pulled our kayaks close (into a floating mycellium…. Did i mention? We’re nerds!) while Miguel explained the phenomena of the bay. Billions of dinoflagellates (plankton) live in the waters, and are fed by B12 from the tannin released by the mangroves. When you poke them? They glow.
Darkness arrived, and Miguel instructed us to reach deeply into the water. Yowza! It was as though we had super powers! A trail of glowing neon-blue water around our hands. Digging the paddles down deep, making swirls and twirls, we scattered across the lagoon to play with the tinker-creatures.
The return trip was fabulous! Going against a gentle current, it was enough of a paddle to work up a little sweat. Pitch black in spots, we’d stop to let an incoming kayak troupe pass, grabbing mangrove branches. The only thing you can really see is the glow in the water as your paddle moves the critters, and the tiny red glow stick on the kayak in front of you…
Poking the roots with a hand or a paddle yielded individual sparkles. Grabbing a handful of the water in the pitch black night, you could see flashes and pops as the annoyed and disrupted micro-organisms did their glowing best to defend themselves against big, goofy invaders!
Mesmerizing…. i was in geek heaven! And yet again, on the sleepy return to the hotel, i found myself thinking “damn. i have a really good job…”