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Where to See Bioluminescence in Florida
Bioluminescence tours are one of the things you need to do when visiting Florida. The tours are usually done through kayaking and are often known as bio-kayaking. The bright blue-green glow will definitely have you feeling like you are in space or at least a whole new different world. As you go along in this article, you’ll know where to see Bioluminescence in Florida.
Being a Floridian has its perks. In this article, I will define and explain, based on research and personal experience, all the beautiful things about the bioluminescent wonders in the Sunshine State. I’ll also give some tips, recommendations, and directions regarding where to see bioluminescence in Florida.
Learning About Bioluminescence
Bioluminescence is one of the most amazing natural phenomena. The simplest explanation I can give is that chemical processes inside a living organism generate light. Bioluminescent living organisms usually utilize this light to communicate or attract or repel other living organisms. Many aquatic animals use bioluminescence as a natural defensive mechanism.
Of course, for us, the light is beautiful. Bioluminescence is also commonly known as “living light.” From what I found, the chemical reaction that results in bioluminescence involves four unique chemicals or parts of a living organism: luciferin and luciferase enzyme, oxygen, and Adenosine triphosphate or ATP.
Luciferase is the enzyme that uses up luciferin, oxygen, and ATP to generate light. Enzymes start and control the pace of chemical processes inside a living organism.
A French scientist called Raphaël Horace Dubois was the one who used this term first.
The term “Luciferin” comes from the Latin word “lucifer,” meaning “light-bearing.” It is the thing that produces light inside the living organism. The actual glowing colors that we see with our eyes are from the luciferin’s unique arrangement inside the organism.
Oxygen is a chemical element and a colorless gas. It reacts with luciferin to produce light. Oxygen is the chemical we need in the air to stay alive. The usual source of oxygen in the air is from plants or trees.
ATP acts as the one responsible for storing and transferring energy in cells. It serves as the gasoline tank in a car. The ATP in the process of bioluminescence is the one that starts up the process to produce light.
To summarize all of that, bioluminescence happens when a chemical reaction from the four mentioned above happens. The ATP produces the needed energy for luciferase to start and regulate the interaction between luciferin and oxygen. The interaction between the four produces the beautiful blue-green glow that we know and love.
Two Sources of Light
Many seas or freshwater animals or organisms glow. It includes, but is not limited to bacteria, algae, jellyfish, worms, crabs, sea stars, fish, and sharks. Sometimes, some animals even consume bioluminescent bacteria or organisms to get the ability to light up. Land bioluminescent species include glowworms and fireflies. Jellyfishes and dinoflagellates are the most popular bioluminescent creatures.
Plankton or Dinoflagellates
Some dinoflagellate plankton species are bioluminescent, meaning they can generate light to illuminate themselves and the water they are in. Dinoflagellates are tiny marine creatures that float near the ocean’s surface and produce bioluminescence. They belong to the plankton family. They’re the more common small bioluminescent marine creatures that give the ocean’s surface a dazzling glow at night. They can also be found in every ocean on the planet.
During the colder months in Florida, bioluminescent Comb Jellies gather in the Indian River Lagoon. Despite their name, these transparent globs cannot sting. They are not jellyfish, despite their appearance. They typically dwell at the surface in shallow and deep seas, swimming by making rhythmic pulsating motions to push their bodies around.
Best Places to View Them
One of the most important questions in this article is where to see bioluminescence in Florida. Booking a bioluminescent kayaking trip in Florida is one of the best ways to see bioluminescence up and personal. Many people claim that these bioluminescence tours are as beautiful and breathtaking as the Northern Lights. From my experience, these are the top sites in Florida to go bioluminescent kayaking.
Indian River Lagoon
Being the most ecologically diverse estuary in North America, the lagoon has been recognized as an Outstanding Florida Water and an Estuary of National Significance by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. In addition to supplying employment and homes, the Indian River Lagoon also contributes to the prosperity and health of Florida’s economy through ecotourism and recreational opportunities. Also, the Indian River is more accurately an estuary and a lagoon.
The Indian River Lagoon is unique because it is home to both the organisms responsible for bioluminescence. Between the months of June and October, the lagoon is densely populated with dinoflagellates. Additionally, if you visit between October and May, you will be greeted with comb jellyfish. When disturbed, they also emit brilliant neon lights into the water, and you can even capture them in the palm of your hand if you are quick enough.
Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a 140,000-acre United States National Wildlife Refuge. It can be found on Florida’s biggest barrier island, Merritt Island. A barrier island is a long, wide sandy island built up by waves, currents, and winds parallel to a coast. They are called barrier islands due to the fact that they form a physical barrier between the mainland and the ocean. They provide shelter and protection for the mainland from the destructive powers of wind, waves, tides, currents, storms, and hurricanes.
It is impossible to view all aquatic species at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in one visit. Still, the bioluminescent effect helps you see many of them and in a whole new light. The experience of kayaking at night in complete darkness and hearing a dolphin appear just a few feet away from your kayak is unforgettable.
In fact, when the dolphins blow through their blowholes, the bioluminescence in the water sprayed triggers a bioluminescence scene. It results in a glistening shower that is truly breathtaking to see. Finally, my reason for recommending the place is that it is very dark here. On clear nights, the darkness is so intense that you can even see the countless stars in the sky.
Cocoa Beach is located on the eastern coast of Florida and in the middle of Space Coast Highway. It is a quaint beach town and is considered one of the best surfing spots in all of Florida. The place is a perfect mixture of warm sun, cool and refreshing air, gentle sea waves, and natural animal and insect habitats. Although the population grows, the town has managed to retain a quaint small-town feel thanks to tourism.
The cocoa-colored soft sand beach, refreshing cool wind, warm ocean water, and tropical sunshine are why you travel to the city of Cocoa Beach in the first place. You will get to see manatees and dolphins as well. Manatees are commonly known as sea cows and are gentle giants. The tours usually go through several places like the mangrove area, inner wetland areas, etc.
Best Time to View Them
Aside from where to see bioluminescence in Florida, you also need to know the best time to see them. Warm temperatures are ideal for bioluminescent dinoflagellates. They sparkle in more when the weather is warm and cozy. That’s why summer is the best time to enjoy bioluminescent kayaking tours or trips. They also bloom more in the warm water, blanketing the surface. Bioluminescent plankton often appears in May and lasts until October.
When it’s colder outside, comb jellies go to the surface to replace the dinoflagellates. The lights and wonder they produce are more or less the same. They are actually always there, but the cold water causes them to rise to the surface. Surfacing makes them more easily seen and identified. As the blue light pulsates along with its eight rib-like structures, you’ll be able to grab and keep these friendly luminous animals.
In viewing or experiencing bioluminescent lights, the most ideal time for well-experienced tours and locals would be during the darkest hours of the night. In particular, at least 5 days following or before a new moon is required. Total darkness is the ideal moment to take in the glittering waters below and the starry skies above. Before booking your tour or planning your trip with your family, I suggest that you check a lunar calendar or moon phases online.
Alone or Book the Tour
In looking up where to see bioluminescence in Florida, your first thought might have been whether you should book a tour or organize one yourself for you and your family. There are lots of advantages and disadvantages between being hands-on and planning your trip versus booking a tour. You not only have to think about the trip itself but your or your family’s preference on the matter.
For me, however, I prefer to weigh in what really matters for me, time. If you have a lot of time, I think it would be best to research the trip and plan it yourself. By doing the planning yourself, you will be able to decide and eliminate many things that you want or don’t need.
If you don’t have the time, though, it would be best to book tours. By doing this, you won’t have to research much about the whole thing and will take out a lot of the stress in planning. Also, you will have a safety net in the form of the tour guide and the other people taking the tour with you. Lastly, tours provide for a set of activities already, and all you have to do is show up, listen, follow and enjoy.
Whichever you choose, you need to consider the amount of time, effort, and joy that the whole trip can bring you, including planning and making the itinerary. If you are the type who has the time, finds joy in organizing events or saving as much as you can, then you should definitely plan your own trip. If you want a ready-made, time-tested, highly commended way of taking trips, then you should choose and book a tour.
New Moon Florida Calendar
As I mentioned earlier, the best time to experience the bioluminescent lights is during or around the time when new moons are up. I and every guide you ask, online or on-site, will tell you the same thing – you can enjoy bioluminescent lights during darker nights. New moon nights will have little to no moonlight and will result in you seeing and enjoying the whole experience to a whole new level.
I have taken the liberty of looking up the New Moon dates for October to December of 2021:
- October 6, 2021
- November 4, 20201
- December 4, 2021
As I mentioned before, the perfect times to visit would be within 3 days before and after the New Moon dates. Simply put, the best time to visit this next month would be sometime between October 3 to 9. Though some people get lucky and take the trip at their own time, they will have cloudy nights. Getting a night like that will also give a bright blue-green light show.
Preparing for the Trip
Aside from knowing and researching where to see bioluminescence in Florida, you also need to prepare for the trip. Getting organized before you go will make your time on the road and upon arrival at your destination more effective, minimize possible dangers, and enhance the positive influence you have on your host and the local community. Travel planning assists you in prioritizing and making the most of your adventures. It will save you not only time but also money, stress, and accidents or mishaps.
Itinerary or Tour Details
First, you should keep in mind that, depending on your location, you may have a large or just a small number of attractions. Whatever the case may be, prioritizing what you want to experience will play a significant part in deciding how many of these activities you can fit into your vacation time frame.
I cannot stress enough the importance of an itinerary since it will assist you in making the most of your time while traveling. By creating an itinerary, you will be able to estimate the length of the trip in detail. Tours often include an itinerary and a day-to-day schedule for the participants.
Footwear for Water
Next, you need to remember to dress for the water and not just for taking pictures, an event, or even the weather. Usually, people wear river sandals or even a pair of water shoes. This type of footwear is needed since they are specialized and designed to provide super traction on the wet and slick surfaces found along and in a river or lake.
Quick Drying Clothes
You also need to remember that you may fall in the water or will get wet somehow or in some way. Because of this, you need to wear quick-dry or summer beach clothing rather than heavy or thick clothes. Although bikini bathing suits are not really recommended because of the chilly air at night. I recommend wearing cotton since it is light, fast-drying, and keeps you warm enough to enjoy the wonderful light show tour.
Insect or Mosquito Repellant
Next, you should never forget to bring insect or mosquito repellant! In Florida, contrary to its infamy, the number of mosquitos and biting midges or “no-see-ums” won’t keep you from ever visiting. Still, it will make you wish you brought protection. The biting midges are basically tiny flies with a common irritating habit of biting and bloodsucking with mosquitos. Luckily, any insect or mosquito repellant will be more than enough to keep these critters away.
Bring Drinkable Water
Lastly, you need to remember to bring a water bottle. You should know the drill, but this is something that a lot of people often forget. Instead of spending on overpriced drinkable water when you get to the tour or area, you should bring your own. Also, you will avoid buying and using plastic bottles that are extremely bad for the environment.
So far, I have discussed where to see bioluminescence in Florida and when to best see them. Although I think I covered almost all the points I can think of, here are some last-minute tips that come into mind:
- It is possible that you may encounter manatees, dolphins, and baitfish throughout your trip. The schools of baitfish agitate the dinoflagellates and result in a spectacular light display nearly as stunning as a meteor shower. Just remember to listen to the guide and their instructions and never try to do anything aggressive to the animals!
- Most tours last for 90 minutes, and you can be with up to 4 people per kayak and up to 6 for boats. Regardless of whether you are with your family or a tour group, always remember to be respectful and try to be sociable. Trips like these are often the times where new friendships can bloom too!
- You will typically kayak or use a boat to see the bioluminescent lights. This can affect both your personal and bioluminescent experience. The blue-green lights appear clearer or more when movement is detected in the water. Personally, I prefer taking a kayak since the exercise does wonders for the body as well as having more control over the speed and majesty of the bioluminescent lights.
- There are many factors that influence the brilliance of the bioluminescent lights. After all, it is derived from an organic substance. Rain dilutes the bay, lowers the salinity, and often reduces the magical blue-green glow.
- Lastly, take care of your belongings. You need to get waterproof seals or cases for your phones, cameras, and other gadgets. What people often forget is that balancing yourself in water is difficult. This is true even if you are in a boat or especially a kayak. Save yourself the heartache and pay for repairs later on by taking the necessary precautions now.
I hope I gave a comprehensive and entertaining guide about where to see bioluminescence in Florida. Also, you can find a lot of the things I said online if you dig through the internet long enough. In addition, you only really need to remember two things from everything I said: where to see bioluminescence in Florida and when. Moreover, you must know which place you actually prefer to see the blue-green lights and when. Regardless, I can honestly say that the bioluminescence in Florida is an experience that you should definitely put on your bucket list.