Mystical glow-in-the-dark water that dots Puerto Rico's coast is at risk of blacking out after Hurricane Maria.
Puerto Rico is home to three bioluminescent bays, bodies of water full of millions of microscopic marine organisms that light up when they're touched. There are a fewer than a dozen in the world.
But if Maria altered the shape of the bay, some of Puerto Rico's biggest tourist attractions could be in danger.
The bioluminescence is the result of dinoflagellates and a chemical reaction similar to that of a glow stick, which gives the waves a stunning blue-green glow when disturbed. The reaction is best seen at night when the water appears to glow in the dark.
The island’s "bio bays" — Laguna Grande, Mosquito Bay and La Parguera — are a huge attraction, and visitors have disrupted the ecosystem so much that Mosquito Bay went dark once before in 2014.
It recovered, but Dr. Edith Widder, founder of the Ocean Research & Conservation Association, said bioluminescent bays in the Caribbean have been irreparably destroyed when the shape of the bay itself is changed.
That’s her biggest concern with Hurricane Maria.
She said the bays may not be able to recover “if anything happened where the storm surge was so great that it changed the hydrology of the bay.”
It will be hard to tell what the impact of the storm is without more funding for research, Widder said. Despite this though, she is optimistic that the bays will recover, although it may take up to a year.
“These little bioluminescent bays are gems, absolute gems. There used to be a lot more of them, but they’ve systematically been destroyed,” Widder said.
Tourism is a fundamental driver of Puerto Rico’s economy, representing 6% of their GDP according to the United States Senate Committee on Finance.
It remains to be seen whether the bioluminescent bays will recover from Maria, but The Puerto Rico Tourism Company is optimistic the island will.
“We are confident that Puerto Rico will quickly recover. Our tourism infrastructure is strong and our people are even stronger,” the company said in a message to travelers.