I’m on the island of Vieques, off Puerto Rico, on a seemingly “far-fetched quest: to swim in a celestial sea,” said Leigh Ann Henion in The Washington Post. My hope is to achieve this in Mosquito Bay, one of the world’s last ecosystems where single-cell microscopic organisms known as dinoflagellates “create halos of light around whatever disturbs their nightly flotation.” The effect is known as marine bioluminescence, and wherever it occurs, it “appears to mirror stars in the night sky.” No other site in the world, however, “hosts the phenomenon with more regularity than the southern coast of Vieques.”
The island makes an unlikely haven for such a rare, naturally occurring miracle. Until 2003, the U.S. Navy used Vieques as a testing site for bombs containing napalm and various other contaminants. But most of the island is now a wildlife refuge, and the specter of its toxic past “has proved no match for 50 undeveloped beaches where—on a busy day—visitors might share a crescent of sand with one or two other intrepid souls.” Tourism is growing, though not so quickly that Vieques has a Wal-Mart yet, or a golf course. In the island’s biggest town, young men still ride horses bareback and roosters run wild.
At night, I board a clear-bottomed canoe with a tour group run by Vieques Adventure Co. (viequesadventures.com). “Almost immediately, the wake alongside our boats is illuminated,” as if “I’m paddling through neon-blue champagne bubbles.” I immerse my hand into the water, and my fingers are “outlined in tiny orbs of light.” The next night, I achieve my dream of swimming in the bioluminescence, a sight whose beauty few photographers have been able to capture without resorting to digital alteration. In a world where so many wonders seem only a mouse-click away, Mosquito Bay “remains a you-had-to-be-there experience.” When I jump into the warm sea, I’m immediately “surrounded by a cloud of liquid electricity.”
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