If you’ve never gone bioluminescent kayaking in Florida, then man, are you missing out. Bioluminescence is one of the coolest natural phenomenons in nature. Witnessing it is like seeing magic happening in the water.
So what is bioluminescence? Where does it happen? Can you see it in Florida? Well have no fear, we’re here to explain and guide you to where you can go bioluminescent kayaking in Florida!
What Is Bioluminescence In Florida And Why Is It Blue?
In short, bioluminescence is light produced by a living organism. If you’ve ever seen a firefly, you have seen bioluminescence! The light is produced by energy released by chemical reactions inside the organism.
In the rivers and oceans of Florida, bioluminescence is not as rare as you might think! Actually, many kinds of animals, from the smallest of bacteria to the mightiest of sharks have some members of their families that are bioluminescent!
We don’t know all of the functions of bioluminescence in all animals. While some deadly fish like anglerfish use it to lure their prey, most species found in Florida will only use bioluminescence as a form of communication. Mainly to warn or evade predators.
So why does the light in the water appear blue? If you paid attention in science class, light has different wavelengths. Thanks to its intermediate wavelength, blue light travels the fastest.
While animals do emit other colored lights, those with longer wavelengths (like red) and shorter wavelengths (like purple) are absorbed into the water and filtered out to the human eye. This is also why the ocean appears blue every day!
When Is The Best Time To See Bioluminescence In Florida?
Bioluminescent organisms love warm weather. You’re going to want to go bioluminescent kayaking in Florida in the warmer summer months, after the sun has gone down of course!
Generally, the best time to go bioluminescent kayaking in Florida is from the middle of May through the summer until early October. It is thought by scientists that you will see the most activity five days after the full moon of the month.
It is important to note that visibility is never guaranteed. That being said, your best chances of seeing the magic lights is two hours after the sun has gone down. You’re going to want dark conditions, because the lights may be faint.
What To Pack When You Go Bioluminescent Kayaking In Florida
Because Florida has been lovingly referred to as a “lawless swamp” by its adoring natives, you need to be prepared. You are going to want to protect yourself from the elements, especially the bugs.
When choosing your apparel, it’s best to wear water or river shoes. You’re going to have to have to take your kayak out and you don’t want that river gunk or sand between your toes all night!
Fabrics that dry quickly are a must. You are going to be a little bit wet, and there’s nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable on a particularly swampy Florida night. Do not wear bikini-style bathing suits or just trunks. In fact, long sleeves are highly recommended.
Besides long sleeves, you’re going to need more protection against insects. Bug repellant is a must and absolutely essential whenever you go out into bodies of fresh water in Florida. You need to protect yourself against those pesky mosquitos.
Because you’re kayaking at night, you definitely want to wear life vests and bring glow sticks, especially if you’re not going alone. If you’re not on a tour, it’s easily to get separated from your group, so some glow sticks should keep you lit just enough to still see the bioluminescence!
Consider packing a dry change of clothes and a towel to leave in the car. If you get more wet than you anticipated, you’ll want to be dry for your drive home at night.
Best Places To Go Bioluminescent Kayaking In Florida
While Bioluminescence in Florida is rare, it does exist. You can mainly find the plankton and their magical lights on Florida’s Space Coast. If you’re not directly located near the East Coast near Central Florida, you will be in for a drive. That being said, here are the best places to go bioluminescent kayaking in Florida.
Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge
On one of the prettiest islands in Florida lies a 140,000 acre National Wildlife Refuge. The land, originally acquired by NASA to build the John F. Kennedy Space Center, was designated a national reserve to protect these marshes, lagoons, and wetlands.
The best place to see bioluminescence in Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is Haulover Canal. Found right in the middle of the refuge, here you’ll have the best chance because the canal is hundreds of thousands of acres of nothingness. It will be pitch black with no light pollution!
Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is also a terrific place to see native Florida animals, like manatees and alligators. If you wanted, you could spend the day seeing the animals and then come back at night to go bioluminescent kayaking in Florida.
Indian River Lagoon
A group of three lagoons, the Indian River Lagoon is made up of the Mosquito Lagoon, the Banana River, and the Indian River. Because its waterways are so isolated, its a perfect place to go bioluminescent kayaking in Florida.
Off of the Atlantic Coast of Florida, this is one of the most biodiverse places in the Northern Hemisphere! The Indian River Lagoon is home to more than 4,300 species of plants and animals in addition to the plankton that causes bioluminescence.
Most kayaks launch from Mosquito Lagoon. As miserable as that sounds (remember when we said to pack bug spray?) this is your best chance to see bioluminescence in the Indian River Lagoon! You’ve been warned!
Besides being a quaint beach town and one of the best surfing spots in all of Florida, Cocoa Beach and its shorelines aren’t just great for families. They’re the last great place to catch a glimpse of bioluminescence in Florida!
For the best views, you’re going to want to venture around Cape Canaveral. Specifically, the Banana River Aquatic Preserve. Because it is flanked on both sides by nothing but roads with no major development, it is isolated completely!
It’s isolated nature makes it perfect for bioluminescent kayaking in Florida! The most popular launch sites can be found along the Banana River, where there are many guided tours to take advantage of!
Suggested Bioluminescent Kayaking Tours
If the idea of getting in a kayak at night by yourself sounds scary, you’re not alone. There are a lot of incredible tours that will guide you through bioluminescent kayaking in Florida.
While they may be pricey, taking a tour is worth it if you want an organized experience. Guides know the perfect conditions and times to go out on the water. They’ll guide you just to the right places and teach you a few things along the way!
Here are our favorite tours to go bioluminescent kayaking in Florida.
BK Adventures launches out of the Indian River Lagoon and offers five different varieties of tours to go bioluminescent kayaking in Florida!
The standard Bioluminescent Kayaking Tours last just one hour and launch just an hour away from Orlando. You also have the option of taking the same exact tour, but inside of a glass-bottom boat. You’ll see everything underneath you! Tickets for these tours cost $55.
More athletic adventurers can attempt the guided Paddle Board tour (hey, paddle boarding is hard!). With the help of guides, you’ll watch the water light up under your feet with each stroke of your paddle. These tours cost $65.
Animal lovers will appreciate the Sunset Kayaking tour, which starts before sunset and affords you manatee encounters! A perfect option for a date night near Orlando, these tours cost $75.
For families with smaller children who might not be so good in a kayak, consider the Family Rafting tour. You’ll be in the comfort of a paddle raft, not a kayak, with a guide. Perfect for kids or groups of six to eight, this tour costs $55.
Florida Adventurer launches out of Haulover Canal in Titusville. Their tours run from June through September with sightings as late as January based on conditions!
Each tour will provide you with a tandem kayak, PFD, and paddles. You might be five years old to participate. Each trip lasts a leisurely 90 minutes and you’ll be guided through the dark waters.
They recommend bringing water shoes, bug spray, a towel, sunscreen, and a water bottle. They also recommend bringing cash to tip your happy guide should they do a good job. This tour costs $50.
A Day Away Kayak Tours
A Day Away Kayak Tours features all sorts of different tours to explore kayaking in Florida, but among their most popular are their bioluminescence tours. And there are a variety of options in many locations!
You can head to Mullethead Island for a Sunset Bioluminescence Tour! First you’ll spend the late afternoon on the water watching the gators, dolphins, and manatees. As the sun sets, you’ll experience the lights as thousands of birds come to roost. This tour costs $60.
A lot of companies offer night tours, but what about bioluminescence tours lit by moonlight? On the Moonlit Bioluminescence tour, you’ll experience the lights of the plankton at your fingers and paddles while underneath the full glow of the moon and the stars!
This tour takes you along the space coast with the Kennedy Space Center as your backdrop. On Monday through Thursday the Moonlit tour costs $39.95 but costs $44.99 on Friday through Sunday.
Tips For Getting Good Photos Of The Blue Water
Bioluminescence is notoriously hard to capture on camera. In fact, a lot of tours will discourage you from trying to take pictures on your phone because you’ll waste so much time trying to get a shot that you’ll miss the beauty.
However, capturing the magical lights is not impossible. It can be tricky if you don’t have the right camera. The reason it’s so difficult is because the light emitted from the organisms is very dim!
For the best results, you’re definitely going to want to use a DSLR camera. Any premium low-light camera will do the trick. You’ll want to use a smaller aperture (f/5) so the amount of light entering the camera is lower. This way the depth of focus is increased so you can capture more of the light.
The recent development in smartphone technology has made capturing bioluminsence easier, but it’s still not a piece of cake for an amateur. While the camera quality has gone up, you’re still going to want to purchase an app that will utilize low-light technology.
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