The unfortunate name of Puerto Mosquito was bestowed on this natural marvel centuries ago. However, Puerto Mosquito on the tiny island of Vieques (off Puerto Rico’s eastern shore) is now considered one of the best bioluminescent bays in the world.
Mosquito Bay’s eerie, electric blue glow is created by microscopic plant/animal organisms called dinoflagellates. They release energy in the form of light, much the way fireflies do. Several dinoflagellate species are found in oceans worldwide: on the U.S Atlantic coast, the waters around Borneo and the Sea of Japan. Although in some places bioluminescence is seasonal, Mosquito Bay glows year-round, thanks to a plentiful population of the species Pyrodinium bahamense, whose name means “whirling fire.” Only 1/500 inch in diameter, these organisms flash when agitated, probably as a defense mechanism. Each flash last only 1/10 second, yet the collective blue radiance can be seen for miles. The reason for this intensity is Mosquito Bayís high concentration of dinoflagellates… 720,000 per gallon!
The bay is in danger, however, from many angles. The popularity of Vieques has caused ever increasing development which in turn created more pollution in the form of garbage as well as fuel spillage from boats. This pollution can kill the organisms, which has been the case in Puerto Rico’s other bioluminescent bays in Parguera and Fajardo, which are now at 10% of the Mosquito Bay levels.
Light pollution also abounds from the ever-growing population around the bay. Owners of condos refuse to use downward shining lights and allow their spot lights ands street lights to shine in all directions. Though the light does not hurt the organisms, more light equals less intense visibility… which then equals fewer visitors to the bay diminishing its economic value. Tourism is the top product of Vieques and protection of the bay is essential.
Mark Martin, a driving force behind the Vieques Historic and Conservation Trust, leads exploratory trips for visitors through Islands Adventures. With help from many individuals and organizations, the he and the Trust have been able to ward off additional development around the bay, but many more battles lie ahead!