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Bioluminescence kayak tours: Eerie glow on night paddles

TITUSVILLE –I’d like to show you a picture of this, but I can’t. That’s because many professional photographers have tried to capture the eerie glow of creatures via bioluminescence  in the Mosquite Lagoon. And they’ve all failed, according to kayak outfitter Mike Mahan, who runs popular night-time bioluminescence kayak tours in  Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

So here’s one phenomenon you’re just going to have to experience in person.

What are bioluminescent kayak tours? Well, you know how cool it is to see fireflies glow on a dark night? Then imagine kayaking over thousands of creatures that glow in the water via the same bioluminescence.

A Melbourne blogger writes a vivid description of a guided kayak trip on the Mosquito Lagoon where he experienced bioluminscence. The trips are run by Mahan’s  A Day Away Outfitters.

The blogger writes:

When you paddle through these waters in certain locations the water lights up with an eerie green glow. I was expecting to see a few little glimmers of this effect but was completely stunned by what I saw. It was like something out of a fantasy type “Lord Of The Rings” movie.

Another phenomenon of the trip was waking up schools of mullet. Here’s what happens:

One thing I learned about disturbing mullet at night when they are sleeping: They jump, hundreds of them, and some end up in your kayak. If you’ve ever seen mullet jump and thought, ‘oh, look at the fish,’ it’s a totally different experience when you kayak over top of them at night. It literally starts raining mullet. We ended up with two mullet jumping into our boat and it was quite startling to my wife. I was also hit by three or four mullet in the shoulder, back and head. When I say they jump, I mean, they jump.

The bioluminiscent phenomenon is limited to summer, so these trips in the Mosquito Lagoon run July to October. The best times to go are when the sky is darkest — five days before and after a new moon.

Mahan, owner of A Day Away Kayak Tours, says word has spread about his tours and they are running double tours some nights and booking up on others. (Trips are broken down into groups of 20, so even when tours are full, the experience is intimate.)

Earlier in the season, the bioluminescence phenomenon did not occur in June as it usually does.  It started with a “sputter,” he said: “We’d see a little bit and then it would stop; a little bit and then stop.”

Now, though, the one-celled creatures that produce the light are glowing on schedule and providing a good experience nightly.

Mahan was the first to offer bioluminescence trips in Florida because, although the phenomenon occurs elsewhere, it is particularly concentrated in the Mosquito Lagoon.  To see the full effect, you need the darkest sky possible, so the wildness of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is critical.  (That darkness is the enemy of photographers: If you try time exposures, you get too much motion. If you use flash, you wash out the glow.)

Day Away charges $34 ($38 on Saturdays) for adults and $26 for children ($28 on Saturdays.)  The outfitter also runs full-moon tours, manatee encounters and other types of kayak trips.

Because of the full moon, there won’t be trips August 9 to 16.  Generally, the bioluminescence phenomenon peaks in late August and continues through October, Mahan said.  If you want to go on a Saturday, you should reserve more than a week in advance.

Resources to plan your bioluminescent kayak tour:

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  1. I am at the intercoastal and there are hundreds of these “glow fish” swarming the dock I am sitting on. I have lived in this area almosr my entire life and have never seen these creatures. Very cool!!

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  4. This sounds terrific, a real must-do!

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