As 2021 rolls into May, one incredibly unique experience becomes available in the Sunshine State: bioluminescent kayaking! From the end of May until the beginning of October, the team at Get Up And Go Kayaking offer bioluminescent kayaking tours at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
This light show is best experienced during the darkest possible nights – when there is a new moon or no moon rise. Quality clear kayaks provided by Get Up And Go Kayaking allow you to see the bioluminescence below. Glowing light emissions are caused by living organisms in the water.
The unusual light show is whipped up by a large concentration of single celled bioluminescent organisms that gather in warm waters. They light up like fireflies in the water and leave a swirl of neon blue, creating a magical spectacle. There are only a few places in the world where you can witness the magic of bioluminescence and Merritt Island is one of them.
Justin Buzzi on Bioluminescent Kayaking Tours
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is bursting with marine life and the bioluminescent effect allows you to see these creatures in a new light. Fish, manatees and even dolphins can be seen! Justin Buzzi, the owner of Get Up And Go Kayaking, explains more about the wildlife and tours below.
Bioluminescence always provides for a unique experience. Each night is completely its own. We see different animals and marine life each night which makes for an exciting adventure. It’s so unique to be paddling at night in the darkness and hearing a dolphin pop up only feet away from your kayak.
When the dolphins use their blowholes it often ignites the bioluminescence in the air making for a glowing spray which is absolutely incredible to see. One night out there we had twenty or more dolphins playing around us and spraying glowing bioluminescence in each direction as they surfaced!
This also happens with manatees as they surface to breathe. If you are close enough, you are able to see them glowing under the water as they swim through the bioluminescent plankton igniting them with their movement.
Whenever we see a manatee swim by underwater we often hear ‘that looks like a submarine’ because of how big they are and the light the plankton give off as they swim through the water. If you have ever seen the movie Dolphin Tale, the dolphin in that movie (Winter) was actually rescued from the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge where we give our tours.
The unique thing about where we paddle in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is that it’s in the middle of a 140,000 acre refuge with no light pollution to impede on the bioluminescent viewing – it gets very dark here! It’s so dark that you can even see the Milky Way on clear nights!
Due to the darkness, it’s difficult to get pictures or videos of the bioluminescence on your phone. The only way we have been able to do it justice is with a pricey camera that performs well in low light. This means that guests can spend more time enjoying the tour rather than trying to take photos. It’s truly an experience you have to see with your own eyes!”
Guest Reviews of Merritt Island’s Glow-in-the-Dark Show
Stephanie Patterson, who lives about an hour from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Orlando, has taken the one-of-a-kind bioluminescent kayaking tour several times. She says it does require a bit of pre-planning.
It’s super important to plan your experience as close to a new moon as possible. You want to be in utter darkness so you can see the full effect of the bioluminescence with as little light pollution as possible.
Once guests have this darkness, the experience can be extraordinary. Stephanie took a bioluminescent kayaking tour with her mother one time and they paddled around together in a two-person kayak. Upon reaching a bridge, the only sound they heard was the murmur of a boat motor nearby and the splash of water as their paddles sliced through the sea.
During this moment, the sky was so dark that the Milky Way was in clear view along with occasional shooting stars. As they paddled, all of a sudden, with a quick burst of air, a dolphin surfaced inches away from their kayak. It was so close that Stephanie could have reached out for a flipper high-five.
This was the first and only time a dolphin has startled me and we had a good laugh about it. Watching a dolphin swim in the water completely illuminated by a blue glow from the bioluminescence is definitely up there on my list of the coolest things that I have ever seen.
This was all from the perspective of a clear kayak provided by Get Up And Go Kayaking. The mother and daughter enjoyed an hour and a half of exploring Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in complete darkness. And what is more, dolphins aren’t the only animal Stephanie has seen on a tour.
On my last trip, one person in our group had a manatee swim under their kayak. It’s one of those experiences that immerses you in the present moment and reconnects you with nature.
That being said, don’t be surprised if a jumping mullet occasionally goes kerplunk into your kayak. Chances are it will be a giggle fest as you attempt to help the fish get back into the ocean. There is nothing quite like this.
While I have never had a mullet flop into my kayak, they are everywhere and on previous tours I always knew it had happened to someone in the group when I heard a scream followed by laughter.
But the most memorable experience from all my tours was seeing dolphins. It’s hard to put into words how magical it is to hear a dolphin surface, blow air and dip down below surrounded by a blue glow.
Tips for Bioluminescent Kayaking
The season runs from the end of May until the beginning of October. As a general rule, the warmer the water, the better the bioluminescence! You can call the team at Get Up And Go Kayaking to get a report on how the bioluminescence is tracking and book accordingly. Once everything is booked and you are about to start your tour, be sure to wear bug spray, long pants and long sleeves for a comfortable experience, and to check out this sea kayaking guide for more helpful tips.