Nature is, without a doubt, the greatest magician. Bioluminescent bays and beaches brought to life by a glowing tapestry of ocean water are some of the spots on earth where nature has wielded its wand to cast a fulgent shadow of uninhibited beauty.
The science behind the magic
Bioluminescence is the phenomenon wherein living organisms produce and emit light on account of a chemical reaction. While there are all kinds of creatures that exhibit bioluminescence or have acquired the ability over the course of evolution, this natural phenomenon is especially helpful underwater and studies have shown that over 75% of deep-sea creatures exhibit this capability in some form. This cold light emission aids ecological interaction and has been found to vary with depth and the marine environment.
The cascading bluish sea of stars or the blue-tinged silver lining that has become a sight of attraction worldwide is mostly attributed to dinoflagellates. These planktons or sea sparkle, found closer to the sea surface, synthesize the light-producing compound luciferin and can be spotted emitting bluish-green light that is more distinctly visible when the water is agitated and in the dark.
When should you visit?
Since visibility is hindered by the presence of other light sources, new moon nights are the best to plan your visits around. It is also advised to check beforehand for the latest conditions because such plankton ecosystems are a rarity and often fluctuate with changes in weather conditions and phenomena like cyclones. Most of these naturally existing glowing waters are found in lagoons and bays with narrow entryways to contain the plankton and can be interrupted by the slightest change. Limited recreational activity is allowed in these bays to enjoy the gleaming vista without interfering with the attempts at conservation.
Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
This famed sea of stars of Raa Atoll, Maldives is a short distance from Male. The beaches are a tour paradise as the translucent waters light up at night. The small island region has optimal conditions to keep this show going almost constantly through the year.
The bioluminescent bays of Puerto Rico
Located on the southern shore of Vieques Island, Mosquito Bay is the most prominent sight of bioluminescence on earth. While the formation began naturally during the time of the area’s Spanish colonization, it was spurred by their barricading of the waters that resulted in the bay being secluded and didn’t allow for the dinoflagellates to escape. The bay’s isolation in more ways than one led to the fostering of optimal conditions for the bioluminescent bay to thrive and it has now emerged as among the most popular tourist attractions along the Caribbean Coast. In 2008, it was declared to be the brightest bioluminescent bay by the Guinness Book of World Records and continues to hold the record.
Laguna Grande in Fajardo and La Parguera in Lajas are the other two Puerto Rican bioluminescent bays where you can experience the phenomenon while enjoying fun activities.
The glowing Californian tides
On the beaches of San Diego, there have been recorded periodic bursts of dinoflagellate, resulting in red tides during the day and an electric blue glow as the night falls. In the past few years, the frequency of this phenomenon has increased. Hard to predict as they are, you might wanna try your luck if you ever find yourself around the place and gift yourself a spectacular show of nature.
Take a look at how this breathtakingly beautiful bioluminescent plankton rendered the Venice beach aglow.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
This bioluminescent bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with isles featuring limestone cliffs and rainforests which provide numerous opportunities for rock climbing, scuba diving, etc. Characteristically, many of these islands have distinct shapes they’re named after like the Stone Dog and Teapot Islands that you can tour via boats or kayaks (the traditional Junk Boats should be a must on your to-do list here).
If you’re heading here, don’t forget to extend your trip to include the Lan Ha Bay, a quieter area which provides many opportunities for kayaking and other fun excursions other than the stunning view of the bioluminescent plankton. The Cat Ba Island, the largest of the Cat Ba archipelago, is among the most prominent tourist spots and has two sister Cat Co beaches from where you can easily spot bioluminescence without venturing out into the waters on a boat.
Luminous Lagoon, Jamaica
Bioluminescence around the Columbian Coastline
Some beaches of the Gulf of Urabá, Coralina Island, Islas de Barú and a lagoon in Isla Grande around Columbia’s coastline are known for the activity of bioluminescent plankton. Most of these spots are accessible from the village Cartagena. They are generally the result of periodic (seasonal) algal bloom but may be spotted in lesser magnitudes throughout the year. In the waters surrounding Isla Grande, green-colored bioluminescence has also been reported to have been caused by the Bermuda Fireworm.
Matsu Island, Taiwan
The “blue tears” that can be spotted around this island are attributed to glowing algae which grow mostly from April to August, making Matsu Island the ideal summer vacation spot!
Bangram Island, Lakshadweep Island
This cozy retreat has shores awash with sea sparkle, most vividly in the months of September, October and November.