This small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico has never been a big attraction. Virtually uninhabited for most of its existence, it is a small and very dry island, lacking the high peaks necessary to grab clouds and rainfall. However, it drew US attention during WWII because of similarity to Japanese targets in the Pacific Theater. Practice bombing missions were conducted here well after the 1940s, with the US military occupying two-thirds of the island. This came to an end several years after 1999, when an errant discharge killed a local and spurred an outcry to expel troops and their explosive motives.
Once Vieques returned to civilian control it was confronted with the need to fend for itself economically. Fortunately, the island’s natural features nurture dinoflagellates, half-plant, half-animal creatures which emit light in response to water movement as a defence mechanism. There are two inland bays that receive the creatures from the tidal activity and these bays are oases where dinoflagellates proliferate and thrive. Fate had blessed Vieques with the world’s finest examples of amazing natural wonder, bioluminescent bays.
My family ventured here several years ago to witness the splendor, staying at an awesome resort complex, Martineau Bay. The property has since been razed and resurrected as a W Hotel, so do not worry about enduring primitive conditions. Through the resort, we coordinated an evening kayak on one of the bio-bays, the inauspiciously named Mosquito Bay.
As the sunset we paddled to the middle of the bay, tied off on a buoy our guide had anchored and jumped in the water to experience the magic. There simply is nothing to compare with the light show these creatures present. Waving hands through the water makes you feel like a superhero, each swish appearing as a hurled lightning bolt. And if you should grasp a handful of water to douse yourself, it is like beads of sunlight in the dark. I think the best way to relate this experience is to share I felt like Tinkerbell spreading fairy dust!
The only peril we encountered begs to rename this body of water Jellyfish Bay. Don’t recall a single mosquito bite, but my wife got tagged twice by a small jellyfish which also comes in with the tide, and I got tagged once. Beyond the initial surprise, which compares to a mild bee sting, it is not extremely unpleasant and goes away quickly. Our guide had warned us about this likelihood beforehand (he subsequently mentioned this was the most stings in one of his outings in two years, only one other person in our group reported a sting).
One would think the show had ended once we scrambled back into kayaks, but the fun had only begun. It was pitch dark on the way back and every time you dipped a paddle into the water there was an explosion of light. Even more spectacular was how the bow of your kayak shredded the water with streaks of brilliant light. These shooting sparks spooked fish ahead of us and they scooted away, appearing like long, glowing eels (the fish’s movement also causes the dinoflagellates to sparkle). It felt like we were guiding an eerie, glowing UFO back to the shore, rather than paddling at night.
Apologies for no photography, but it requires serious effort to take quality pictures of this phenomenon (time exposures in the water), and I have no regrets. Visions of this miracle of Mother Nature remain indelibly etched and I can only recommend a visit to spark your own fond memories.