TITUSVILLE, Fla.—On a recent muggy evening, the sun set, casting orange and pink hues over Mosquito Lagoon. A rainbow appeared earlier, then vanished into the night sky. As daylight yielded to darkness, beneath my kayak, the water lit fluorescent blue every time my paddle touched it or a fish darted away.
Another kayaker commented that it looked like something out of "Avatar's" Pandora. I completely agreed.
This magical phenomenon attracts Floridians and tourists alike who flock to view this bioluminescence caused by single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates. This marine plankton can use its blue glow as a defense mechanism to ward off predators, but that function doubles as a sight of amazement for humans who experience it.
Generally speaking, bioluminescence can be witnessed June through September (maybe early October) when conditions are hot and dry. Darker areas tend to be better, and the phase of the moon may also affect how well dinoflagellates can be seen.
Mosquito Lagoon and Indian River are common places to witness this natural sensation. Launch points include Titusville's Parrish Park and launches within Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, specifically Beacon 42 and Haulover Canal.
The refuge is an ideal place to catch the blue glow at its fullest, as paddlers are somewhat removed from the city lights of Titusville, which also plays a factor in stargazing.
Some paddlers have also experienced bioluminescence in nearby Banana River, which flows between Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral.
Several Central Florida companies offer tours to see this blue-glowing wonder, including Get Up and Go Kayaking, Adventures in Florida, A Day Away Kayak Tours, Real Florida Guide, Florida Adventurer and Peace of Mind Kayak Tours.
Be sure to pack bug spray, water and a flashlight, and consider attaching glowsticks to your bow and stern to be more visible to other boaters.
Bioluminescence is all but impossible to capture on most cameras and may only be possible to catch when using an SLR or mirrorless camera and a long shutter speed.
But even the photos can't do the glow of the dinoflagellates justice, showing that some miracles in nature are best experienced in person.