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Why Does Bioluminescence Happen in Florida?

Why Does Bioluminescence Happen in Florida?

Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon that occurs through a chemical reaction that produces light energy in an organism’s body. This reaction only occurs in species that contain luciferin, a molecule that produces light when it reacts with oxygen.

There are different types of luciferin, which vary depending on the animal hosting the reaction. Some organisms also produce luciferase, an enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of a luciferin, which causes it to light up and glow. Interestingly enough, animals can control when they light up by regulating their chemistry and brain processes. They do this depending on their immediate needs, like eating or mating. 

You can find bioluminescence in many different marine organisms, including algae, bacteria, worms, jellyfish, sea stars, crustaceans, fish, and sharks, and there are at least 1,500 known fish species that luminesce. Sometimes, animals ingest bacteria or other bioluminescent creatures, which also gives them the ability to light up.

Where to See Bioluminescence in Florida

Florida offers many beautiful places where you can see glowing algae and sea creatures, including the Indian River and the Banana River. They’re both parts of the Indian River Lagoon, which is also known as Florida’s “Bioluminescent Bay.”

Some of the most popular places to see bioluminescence in Florida include: 

  • Space Coast – With over 72 miles of coastline, Florida’s Space Coast is incredibly diverse. It includes the Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River, and Indian River Lagoon, which come alive with bioluminescence in the warm summer months.
  • Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – This 140,000-acre U.S. National Wildlife Refuge on the Atlantic coast of Florida’s largest barrier island houses NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Because it has no light pollution to impede your bioluminescent viewing experience, it is a premier destination for witnessing glowing water in Florida.
  • Cocoa Beach – South of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, this additional gateway to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex offers beautiful bioluminescence in the summer. 

What is Bioluminescence Kayaking?

A personal favorite of many Florida tourists, bioluminescence kayaking uses see through kayaks to showcase the spectacularly vivid underwater world at night. Dinoflagellates (plankton) light up a bright iridescent blue during the summer, making it appear as if the water was glowing. Going on this tour is an incredibly mystical experience, as your clear kayak will light up from all sides, allowing you to feel like you are a part of the magical bioluminescent world. 

Bioluminescence Kayak Tours in Florida

If you’ve never experienced the magic of bioluminescence in person, you’re in for a breathtaking surprise in Florida’s warm and dark lagoon waters. Taking a clear-bottom kayak, you get to go on mystical waters that light up with every swirl of your hands and every stroke of your paddle. It’s truly fascinating to see the world sparkle up all around you, similar to the magical world of the movies “Avatar” or Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi.” Even Christopher Columbus once described this natural phenomenon as something incredible, saying, “It looks like the flame of a candle that’s constantly flickering.”

You’ll encounter the laser light show-like darting blue tracer trails of nearby fish speeding through the water and mullet fish that may jump right into your bioluminescent kayak. Depending on where you go, you may even see incredible wildlife, including dolphins, manatees, herons, and endangered species of birds. 

The Best Time for Bioluminescence Kayaking Florida 

Check the moon calendar before booking a bioluminescent tour: since moonlight affects how clearly you will be able to see the glowing plankton and luminous sea creatures, you’ll want to pick pitch dark nights that have no moon or as little moonlight as possible (and therefore no glare of the moon on the water). The best season to go on a bioluminescent kayaking tour is from May to September, while from July to August (peak season), dinoflagellates appear especially bright every night. 

Another key factor that affects the brightness of the bioluminescence is the temperature of the water. The warmer the water temperature, the more intense the glow. This is why the Indian River Lagoon is excellent for bioluminescent kayaking, as it is shallow in most areas, which allows for the water temperature to heat up quickly.

Best times for bioluminescent kayaking tours: 

October to April –  Glowing Jellies Season (Comb Jellies)

From October to April, expect to see incredible bioluminescent jellyfish that don’t sting. They are comb jellies: prehistoric sea creatures that have been on the Earth for over 500 million years. When the Indian River Lagoon cools down, the comb jellies move in. Depending on the temperatures and how warm it gets, you can expect to see glowing plankton as early as April some seasons.

May to September – Dinoflagellates Season

At the start of summer, the bright blue-green glowing dinoflagellates begin to appear. During the peak of summer, they shine brightly when touched with your hands, with a kayak paddle, or when stirred by fish swimming by. The glowing plankton is especially bright in July and August, which is also peak season for clear kayak tours. Make sure to book early if you plan on going on a bioluminescent tour in Florida at this time.

June to August – Peak Season

While dinoflagellates are present in other months as well, they may appear more like subtle sparkles than glowing water. However, June to August is the absolute best time to experience a bioluminescent kayak tour. 

What to Bring

To ensure that you have a great time, pack the following for your bioluminescent kayak tour: 

  • Towels for afterwards (you may get wet from the water dripping on you from the paddles)
  • Water shoes
  • Long sleeved shirt, long pants, and a hat. The more protection from bugs, the better!
  • Bug Spray
  • Water in reusable container

Book Your Bioluminescent Kayak Tour

Experience the magic of glowing waters with Get Up And Go Kayaking, Florida’s premier clear kayaking bioluminescent destination. We have the BEST bioluminescent tours in Florida, as our clear kayaks provide optimal viewing of the bioluminescence! We offer bioluminescent kayaking at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. 

We’re proud to be the very first clear kayaking bioluminescent company that takes you to see the glowing directly below you on Florida’s waters! Nothing is better than paddling in a clear kayak, as it truly enhances your bioluminescence viewing experience!

Since we only bring groups of up to 10 people out on the water at a time, you get to enjoy a truly personalized experience with our professional guides. We always provide two tour guides per group which enhances the experience and ensures your safety! What’s more, we share all the information about the bioluminescence and surrounding areas in a fun and engaging way, so you will be both well informed and have an unforgettable time. 

Please keep in mind that we offer tours at midnight and later. If you book a time that late, it may look like it is on the next day because of the time, so please double-check all dates/times!

Get ready to get up and GLOW with us by contacting us for more information or to book a tour for an unforgettable night of experiencing the magic of bioluminescent waters in Florida.