Bioluminescent Bay In Puerto Rico, Fajardo, Went Dark And No One Knows Why

By Ajit Jha on November 20, 2013 9:15 AM EST

Bioluminescent bay on Vieques.
A bioluminescent bay outside Fajardo, Puerto Rico, has stopped glowing. (Photo: CC BY-SA 2.0, Steven Isaacson)

Scientists and environmentalists in San Juan, Puerto Rico are baffled over a bioluminescent lagoon off Puerto Rico's northeast coast that has gone nearly dark. 

There are several theories doing rounds including people clearing mangroves to let in larger boats, inclement weather, and construction runoff, but there is not yet convincing evidence to prove any of these suspicions. "We have been compiling data," Carmen Guerrero, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, said. "There are a lot of factors that could be at play."

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This bioluminescent lagoon, or bay as it is often referred to, has been a hugely attractive tourism destination in recent years. It attracts hordes of tourists by night who come sailing in boats or kayaks from neighboring places like Fajardo to see the glowing water especially when microscopic organisms are agitated. Visitors trailing them through water may find a greenish light swirl off their hands and arms. The Fajardo lagoon is one of the three bioluminescent lagoons in the area.

However, suddenly and inexplicably, bioluminescence has dropped to the level enough to cancel trips and refund visitors, according to Guerro. Anibal Melendez, Mayor of Fajardo, speaking to reporters, said that the lagoon has remained dark for at least last eight days. "We've never seen anything like that," he admitted.   

Melendez speculating the cause of darkness in the construction of a nearby water and sewer plant ordered that the planted be relocated at another place. Officials running the plant, however, deny it as the cause. In the meawhile, the government ordered the temporary suspension of the plant for two weeks as a preventive measure. Guerrero has stated that she is not sure if possible construction runoff could be responsible for the problem, and offered an alternative theory: the possibility that rains and storms generating heavy waves are impacting the bioluminescence of the lake.  

Scientists from various agencies including the U.S. Geological Survey will study the problem to find its cause, Guerrero said "It's important to give these experts room," she said, "so they can do their job and help us understand what happened in the lagoon and why it has temporarily lost some of its brightness."

Meanwhile, the temporary suspension of the plant may likely add to the city's sewer woes. Alberto Lazaro, president of the state Water and Sewer Authority, is not sure how he will proceed in several weeks unless, he said, he has scientific findings that can be evaluated. The plant is needed, he said, because people discharge sewage into the lagoon and ocean nearby. The project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and approved by the Department of Natural Resources was to be completed by 2016. "The goal of the project is to conserve this valuable resource, and we have designed and developed this project taking all those requirements into account," Lazaro said.

This is not the first time that the bioluminescent lagoon in this region has gone dark, according to Miguel Sastre, a biology professor at the University of Puerto Rico. The Fajardo's bioluminescent lagoon went dark in 2003, but rebounded a few months later for unknown reasons, according to Sastre.

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