Jamaica’s Luminous Lagoon – A Natural Wonder
What, exactly, is a bio-luminescent dinoflagellate (dy-no-FLAH-juh-luht), and why should you really care? Well, if you’re in Montego Bay (20 minutes away), Ocho Rios (45 minutes), or Falmouth, you won’t want to miss this!
What we most often call “phosphorescence” is more accurately known as bio-luminescence. This means living (bio) light (luminescence). Dinoflagellates are tiny organisms that live in the sea and get energy from sunlight during the day (think solar lights or fireflies). When it’s dark, they give off a mysterious bright blue-green light if there’s any movement in the water.
The places where these critters thrive are called “bio-luminescent bays”. There are only 5 or 6 of them left in the world, and you can have the thrill of seeing one of them in Jamaica! One of the world’s largest concentrations of these bio-luminescent microorganisms, and one of the brightest, is at Glistening Waters (a.k.a. Luminous Lagoon) in Rock, Falmouth, Jamaica.
Glistening Waters is located in a lagoon surrounded by mangroves, where the warm fresh waters of the Martha Brae River collide with the salt waters of the Caribbean Sea. Apparently, the roots and fallen leaves of the mangroves decompose and the resulting bacteria produce vitamin B12, an essential nutrient for the dinoflagellates. Because the bay is shallow, the evaporation rate is high; the surface water becomes saltier and sinks to the bottom. This heavier water moves out to sea, leaving thousands of our little critters at the water’s surface.
I think it’s one of the most spectacular sights to see in Jamaica. It’s hard to describe and even harder to photograph! I was there in May of this year but the photo you see on my site is from my visit about two years ago. It’s not great but will give you an idea of how the light in the water glows.
This would also make a nice romantic date night! You could enjoy dinner at Glistening Waters’ lovely waterfront restaurant & follow it up with a boat ride, or just do the boat ride on its own. Your boat will hold about 30 people & there are several boats. Our guide was Jerry who has been at Glistening Waters for a long time. He’s fun and is a wealth of information about the lagoon and the surrounding area. Jerry will take you out into the lagoon, rev the outboard motor, sing to you, and putt around stirring up the water to WOW you with the beautiful glowing light. It looks like glittering fairy dust. Run your fingers and hands through the water and create glowing blue-green ribbons of your own. The boat will stop and let you get into the water, so don’t forget to wear something to swim in. I didn’t get into the water but everyone seemed to love it!
Jerry says that you can fill a bottle with the water, shake it up, and the light in the water will last for five days. Next time I’m bringing an empty water bottle! And check out the moving fish in the water – they look like moving stars! Spectacular!
Glistening Waters is a truly amazing experience. Obviously, it can only be done at night. The first time I did it, the moon was full. This time I planned it for a night with no moon and the light was MUCH brighter. If your day was bright and sunny, the light at night will be brighter. And according to Jerry, it’s even better going out on a rainy night. Every drop of rain creates color in the water. Imagine!
I paid US$20 each for the tourists and J$800 (about US$9) for the locals in my group. Be sure to ask for the local rate if you take your friends with you. The tour last 30 to 45 minutes. Glistening Waters is open daily and boat tours begin at sunset. None of my Jamaican friends had ever been to Glistening Waters and they absolutely LOVED it!
Puerto Rico has a couple of bio-luminescent bays and there may be two others in Indonesia & Mexico. There used to be more. Those in Hawaii and the Bahamas were ruined when they widened the openings from the bay to the sea, reducing the dinoflagellate population. Others in the Caribbean have been lost due to industrial or boat pollution, the cutting of mangroves for charcoal, runoff from the overgrazing by cattle in nearby fields, and the increase in artificial lights, which reduces the phenomenon’s brightness. The port of Falmouth (nearby) is currently being widened to accommodate huge cruise ships. Let’s hope it doesn’t ruin this natural wonder.
Visit the Glistening Water Restaurant and Marina website. Go see it; you won’t be sorry!