I grew up along the lagoon of the Indian River and always took bioluminescence in the water for granted.
As a young man, I sailed late at night. The trail of my boat shone through bioluminescence, a phenomenon I had never experienced before. What happened then is to make this veil that I will never forget.
A large tarpon swam along the boat. He shone strong enough that I could see his scales, and his large eye. Then he turned away and disappeared into the dark water.
What is bioluminescence?
Think about how fireflies glow. It is bioluminescence: the light of a biological source. It is not the reflected light, but the light from within.
In the lagoon of the Indian River, the Plankton, which naturally grows in salt water, can produce its own light. The good news is that algal blooms that bring summer bioluminescence to the lagoon are not a Problem. After a few days of Still Water, the blue light appears.
According to this article by Florida Sea Grant, Noctiluca dinoflagellates produce the light we see in the water on some quiet summer nights. Why do they shine sometimes and not others? They emit light when disturbed, as when pursued by a fish.
Bioluminescence in waves
I would not live another glowing fish for many years, and this time I could share the experience with Sandy. We were living in a second floor apartment when one night I started to see what looked like light waves in the lagoon.
The darker the night became in the course of the hours, the clearer became the blue light peaks on the waves. When I pointed this out to Sandy, she said that she had never seen bioluminescence in the water in person.
As we grabbed the camera, we descended to the sea wall to take a closer look. As we approached the edge of the wall, a small fish bank had to see our shadow and jumped up. You could see their glowing forms in the water, illuminated by the Plankton they disturbed.
Since Sandy remained motionless, I moved away from the water’s edge and moved further along the dike before returning to the water’s edge. He worked. When the fish believed that I was above them, they swam towards her and gave her a much better view of them shining as they swam through.
Paddling through bioluminescence
We live not far from the place where the lagoon of the Indian River and the lagoon of the mosquitoes are connected by the artificial transport channel. Mosquito Lagoon is also considered part of the Indian River Lagoon.
As the rivers here are surrounded by Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and Canaveral National Seashore, this particular part of our Region is free of most external light sources. This makes it a great place to see bioluminescence.
One of my favorite places to see this summer glow is a simple paddle from bers Cove, from the boat ramp on the southwest side of the canal.
From this ramp you paddle east through the canal. It is important to be a strong Paddler as the current in the Cup is very strong during tidal changes.
While paddling in the Haulover Canal, pass the drawbridge and pass the manatee viewing platform. Look for an opening on the north side of the canal on the left.
This opening leads you into a large area of semi-sheltered apartments. When the Intracoastal Waterway was dredged, the Corps of Army Engineers created a series of loot islands. These islands protect these shoals from the deep waters of the lagoon.
I have been here several times to see the water shining from the bioluminescence. I was never alone here. Guides and locals know that this is a great place to see this natural phenomenon.
Just like watching the stars, I always had my best experiences later at night. It starts with a slight glow in the water, often weak enough that you do not know if it was that. Slowly the lighting becomes brighter.
The vortex generated by my paddle becomes a glowing rotation and only a single drop of water from my paddle forms a glowing Ring like the waves of water.
On one of my paddling pools traveling here, in the distance, a thunderstorm prepared. Of course, the guides were the first to get their groups safely out of the water. The Rest of the paddlers followed slowly.
My friend and I agreed that the storm was probably north of New Smyrna Beach, more than 20 miles away, and we could see that it was traveling east to West, not south to us. We decided to paddle near the canal entrance, where we could escape quickly if necessary.
Then we sat down and watched the storm in the distance. She was beautiful. I have never seen or experienced anything like this before. When the sky and clouds lit up with lightning, they reflected on the water in the form of a mirror.
Bioluminescent Paddle Round
The following tour operators in our Region offer paddle tours so you can see the bioluminescence on the Indian River Lagoon. We are not affiliated with any of them and we have not participated in their tours.