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Bio-luminescent Kayak Tour

16 April 2016

It is said that Cayman has one of  seven bioluminescence bays in the world, but as the guide fairly pointed out, this is a natural phenomenon that occurs around the world – sometimes in the open ocean.  However, it’s great to have it captive in a bay easily accessible by Kayak.Bio-luminescence is responsible for those seemingly magical lights in the water that you sometimes see trailing behind boats. Bio-luminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism.  It occurs in numerous sea creatures, the classic example being the Angler Fish – which glows a light from a spine protruding above its eyes (you may remember the scene in finding Nemo).  An interesting page on the science is at, with some useful photos that I couldn’t take…

Anyway, not to digress, the bioluminescence bay in Cayman is a bay which does not experience much current, and so a large concentration of small bioluminescent sea organisms (dinoflagellates) have gathered over time.  There must be numerous bays around the world off the tourist track that have not been discovered.

The best way to see this effect is by Kayak.  Cayman Kayaks organize a night tour, at certain times of the month (when there is no or little moon to distract from the light) and is a short kayak ride from Rum Point.  For those physically unable to kayak, they have introduced an electric boat that enters the bay under an electric engine.

You begin to see the effects at the entrance to the bay, a frothy tint to your paddle strokes that you wonder why you haven’t noticed all along.  As the knowledgeable guide takes you slowly further into the bay, stopping periodically, the effect becomes much more intense.  I have experienced phosphorescence once while diving (see Underwater Photography and a lonely night-dive) but each time this has been much better. The striking of your paddle agitates the micro-organisms, causing them to generate light in self defence.

The further you go into the bay, you start to see flashes of light in the water as small fish agitate the dinoflagellates and if you wave your hand in the water it is lit up as though you are covered in sparkles. If you hold a handful of water in your hand, and then let it fall, it is like a shower of stars.

Apparently each of the micro-organisms reproduce by mitosis, so if the bay was left undisturbed, this effect would get stronger and stronger.

It is very difficult to get photos of this effect, so leave your cameras at home and just enjoy the experience.  I would recommend wearing a baseball cap because there is ambient light from the houses around the bay and a visor or baseball cap can help reduce this, making the effect more intense.  The whole trip takes about 1.5-2 hours – it’s best to go when it’s calm winds and then the kayaking is not strenuous.

On the way back, as an example of a different bio-luminescent creature, strike your paddle into the sand. You will see a storm of lighting bursts in the water – these are tiny bio-luminescent shrimp being agitated by your paddle.

We first did this trip back in 2012 then again in 2013 and recently with a friend visiting in 2016.  We haven’t tried the electric boat yet but may when my wife’s parents visit (they are not likely to be able to do the kayak).  The organization has got a lot more professional and take out a lot more tourists. As such, the bay has become much more popular and people are growing concerned about the amount of bug spray, gas (hence the electric boat) and other man made waste in the water, that will ultimately kill the tiny organisms.  It is true that you can go there without a guide, but don’t take a gas/diesel powered boat in as you will just ruin this for future generations. You can swim (although the bay is also popular with jellyfish due to the lack of current) but do keep bug spray and sun spray out of the water for the same reason.




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