You have undoubtedly heard of or seen phytoplankton in a nature documentary, such as on the Netflix series, “Our Planet” episode “Deep Seas” narrated by David Attenborough. Typically you would need a submarine to view these organisms that emit brilliant lights, as they mostly live deep below the surface of the ocean. These microscopic plant organisms create ½ of the oxygen on earth. Some of our local waterways are also blessed with similar microscopic organisms called dinoflagellates. This algae creates the appearance of “glowing waters” that can be seen by the naked eye. So easily viewable in fact, that at the start of a light rain you can see each droplet of water light up as it kisses the water’s surface.
Locally we are home to both dinoflagellates and comb jellies. Both of these organisms emit brightly colored blue and green hues as a defense mechanism against predators. Any time the water is disturbed it will create this light. Thusly, when you go out on a kayak every paddle stroke will light up the water all around you. A fast-moving dolphin will create a wake that looks like a lightning strike of blue, while a slower-moving manatee will appear to be eerily, glowing green just under the water’s surface. If you are surrounded by a school of fish you will see what appears to be a laser light show, under the water!
There are few places in the world where you can see this natural phenomenon in person. Luckily one place you can view this is in our local Florida waterways. The best months to partake are May-October as the algae bloom happens when the water is at its warmest and there is plenty of sunshine to aid in feeding and reproduction of these dinoflagellates. If you can time your kayaking trip during a new moon during said months, it will be the absolute perfect time. Essentially the darker the night, light the brighter the glow. Now let’s tell you where the best places to view this glowing water are!
The Indian River Lagoon is a thriving ecosystem with many tributaries. This diverse ecosystem is home to many plants and animals one of which being the glowing dinoflagellates, as well as the larger comb jellies. This is the best viewing place of bioluminescence in the state of Florida, not including the recently created “Flight of Avatar” ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom which takes you through a passage of the glowing waters of Pandora. Within the Indian River Lagoon are 5 locations that are ideal for partaking in kayaking through these glowing waters, referred to by some as Bioluminescent Bay.
The Thousand Island Nature Preserve is home to many dolphins, manatees, horseshoe crabs, a variety of birds, many fish, as well as the dinoflagellates and comb jellies that light up the dark waters at night. Ramp Road Park offers a nature trail, playground, tennis courts, and community gardening area. Within the preserve live approximately 5000 plant and animal species, including approximately 35 threatened or endangered species.
*Best launch sites are located at Ramp Road Park or the Cocoa Beach Country Club
#2 Kiwanis Island Park in Merritt Island
This launch site will place you in a wildlife refuge within Sykes Creek. The location has a playground and a variety of indoor and outdoor activities such as basketball, tennis, racquetball, softball, and fishing, as well as indoor and outdoor pavilion areas.
*Multiple launch sites available on the island
#3 Kelly Park on the Banana River in Merritt Island
Kelly Park West offers a trail and dock to a pond where you can view wildlife, a playground, tennis courts, fields, as well as a pavilion. While Kelly Park East offers multiple pavilions, a sand volleyball court, a boat dock, and shoreline fishing. This launch site will place you in the Banana River, which is a tributary of the Indian River.
*Best launch point is Kelly Park East’s Kayak Launch
#4 Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on North Indian River (just south of Mosquito Lagoon)
At 140,000 acres, this area offers many recreational activities and is a wonderful place for bird watching during the day, as well as catching the bioluminescence at night. This launch site is in the wildlife refuge and does require a fee to utilize its facilities, which go to a great cause. Visit the website below for more information and current pricing.
*Best launch point is the Haulover Canal Kayak Launch.
#5 Mosquito Lagoon on North Indian River
This point is just south of Merritt Island Refuge’s Haulover Canal and launches you into the west side of the Mosquito Lagoon. This launch site is also within the wildlife refuge and does require a fee to utilize its facilities, going to a wonderful cause. Please visit the website below for more information and current pricing.
*Best launch point is Beacon 42 Boat Ramp
Please note the best area to view the dinoflagellates and comb jellies are where there is minimal light pollution. If you are unfamiliar with the area your best bet is to go with a tour guide to ensure your safety and proper navigation so you do not get lost on the waterways. Additionally, your guide should be local so they can show you exactly where the best and brightest areas are! If you are visiting Florida November-March, while the water will be too chilly for the dinoflagellates, do not fret we also have the comb jellies during these months that emit vibrant lights much like the dinoflagellates. Your local tour guide will be able to show you where these are as well! To book a bioluminescent tour with a local guide click here!
Author: Jessica Cortes