Matt, an old friend of Sandy’s, was in town. Like me, he’d grown up along the Indian River Lagoon, but had not seen bioluminescence in the water since he was a kid.
Not wanting to head out in unfamiliar waters after dark, he was hoping for a paddling buddy. I’ve been eager to get back on the lagoon and see it against myself.
We made plans to meet for a paddling trip at Beacon 42. Thanks to the usual summer afternoon thunderstorms we had to cancel several times.
When the weather cleared, the bridge wouldn’t cooperate. After being closed for repairs, it ended up stuck in the up position, closing the road to our preferred put-in.
Time was running out on Matt’s visit. The weather stayed nice, and people started commenting online how good the bioluminescence looked.
With social distancing in mind we loaded our 14 foot kayaks – well over six feet between us – into the back of his truck. I followed in my car.
From Titusville, it’s a very long drive around to the north side of Haulover Canal when the bridge isn’t available, by way of Oak Hill.
Because of that, I wasn’t expecting a crowd. I was wrong. Arriving at dusk at Beacon 42, we found the parking lot was nearly full.
There were at least two guide services rounding up their parties. People and rental kayaks were everywhere. It reminded me of Disney World.
While the guides were signing people up and giving safety briefings, we were able to slip in the water nearly unnoticed.
We knew that it was going to be good when Matt stepped into the water with his kayak, and his feet glowed.
Every paddle stroke we made glowed and left a bioluminescent trail in the water.
We quickly put some distance between us and the rest of the paddlers. The darker it got the better the bioluminescent glow.
Watching Matt’s boat there was a brilliant blue line along the water line. His boat had pedals, so below the blue line there was a glow. It was like there was a light beneath him.
Looking behind us In the distance were could see the small groups of kayaks huddled together.
We couldn’t see their boats. Instead, we saw the glow of colored glow sticks. As we paddled by we could hear the guides telling stories and answering questions.
We decided to leave the protected shallows between the shore and spoil islands and venture out past the islands into the Intracoastal Waterway.
As we guessed correctly, the guides wouldn’t take their groups out there. Leaving the noise and their indirect lights behind, we were treated to a show above as well as below.
The skies were clear and filled with stars, the cloud of the Milky Way a faint fog across the dark backdrop.
Locating the Big Dipper, we were able to spot the Neowise comet faintly. The unavoidable lights of New Smyrna Beach glowed in the distance below it.
We were far enough from the rest of the paddlers that we could no longer hear their voices. In complete silence, we splashed our paddles.
Below us, the water erupted in the fireworks of the bioluminescence. Each of us had a camera. We tried shot after shot and video recording trying to capture the glow.
Sitting there in the dark, just us and the stars, we could hear the waves crashing on the Atlantic Ocean beach on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway.
At first Matt couldn’t believe it was the surf, then we looked at the GPS and listened closer. I said “what else could it be?”
Bioluminescence, a clear sky full of stars and the comet, and the sounds of the ocean. What could be better?
As we came back past the spoil islands towards Merritt Island, we paddled north to distance ourselves from the crowd.
It was just us and the dark water, until we spotted a school of fish not far away. I built up some speed so that I could glide into the school. The fish went crazy.
With their every move, the water glowed, leaving bioluminescent trails behind them. Then they began jumping from the water, which glowed as they jumped and splashed.
We were both amazed. Then I was hit by a fish, then a second. Matt was having a good laugh at the sounds of surprise as fish were hitting me in every direction.
Some of them landed inside the kayak with me. It turned out they were young mullet. Being in a fishing kayak, Matt sat higher and figured he’d be left alone, but no.
We were both laughing as we were pelted by young mullet between eight and ten inches long.
Just try and grab a slippery fish to toss out of your kayak while others are hitting you!
With huge smiles on our faces we decided to venture back to the far side of the Intracoastal Waterway to enjoy the quiet and have a final look at the comet.
It was getting late, and we knew that it was a long drive back to Titusville by way of Volusia County. So we slowly headed toward the boat ramp.
Once we were almost there, we thought to see if the school of mullet was still where we left them. They were. After another round of “fish tag,” we started for the ramp.
Growing up along the lagoon, I’ve seen bioluminescence many times before from canoes, kayaks and sailboats.
But nothing like this. Seeing it in such brilliance I can understand while people come from all over to experience it. I don’t know what the guides charge, but it’s worth it.
Learn more about bioluminescence and how it happens, and how and where to go on your own bioluminescent paddling trip.
Bioluminescence on the Indian River Lagoon
It’s a summer thing, this shimmering glow of blue that rises from the shallows of Florida’s largest lagoon. Learn why it happens and how to see it yourself.