Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Bioluminescent Bays and a new perspective on the phrase "getting into the weeds" - Stacy Phillips


This morning I was reading a story about bioluminescent bays and how the recent hurricanes have effected them. The thought provoking article interested me for several reasons. Firstly, I have kayaked in a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico at night, and was in awe at the display of beauty and life before me as my kayak buddy and I literally bounced into mangrove trees. I was a newbie at both kayaking and mangrove trees.

Secondly, the mechanism behind these tiny glowing bacteria and the conditions in which they give off their beautiful light can offer some parallels to our own experiences, our own journeys.

Let me explain. No, too long, let me sum up.

In the article (see link), scientists admit that these bioluminescent bays are still a bit of a mystery to them. They've studied how and why they have success, what conditions they thrive in, and truly don't have all the answers.

In the Caribbean, there are a few such bioluminescent bays or lagoons that glow year-round: three in Puerto Rico, one in St. Croix, one in Jamaica, and one in the Cayman Islands. That this combination of unlikely, astounding factors comes together to create a perennial nursery for a diverse community—fish, mollusks, birds, insects, reptiles, and more—is remarkable. Bioluminescent bays are vastly understudied, says Michael Latz, a research biologist at the University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography. But they shouldn’t be.

“They’re excellent natural laboratories to look at ecosystem competition, the effect of nutrients, and the impact of environmental conditions,” he says. “Why are they so successful? It’s a scientific mystery. We don’t have the full answer.”

Embedded in the mystery of bioluminescent bays is their extraordinary resilience. Hurricane Maria tore through both Laguna Grande (the bioluminescent lagoon at Cabezas de San Juan) and Mosquito Bay, on the nearby little island of Vieques. But nature varies in its resilience, as people do—as such, Mosquito Bay and Laguna Grande responded differently to Hurricane Maria.

One thing they DO know about the mechanism of the tiny single-celled aquatic phytoplankton, a species of dinoflagellate called Pyrodinium bahamense which produces bioluminescence (light produced by chemical reactions in the bodies of living things) is that the bioluminescence is activated when this organism is "agitated".

Yes, it's environment of change activates the glow! No change, no glow! Isn't that similar to our own lives? It is through adversity, change or challenges that our inner light can glow for others to see!

The second thing of note I took from the article was that we can learn from studying that ecosystem with respect to "the effect of nutrients and the impact of environmental conditions." You see, we all have our own little "ecosystems" that we call "us". Nutrients and the impact of environmental conditions effect our individual ecosystem also! My individual ecosystem is called "Stacy". What conditions am I putting in and around my ecosystem for its benefit, and to encourage my ecosystem to thrive? Sounds like philosophy, but it truly is something to think about. Am I feeding my bioluminescence?

When the hurricane came in and lowered the salinity of the water these glowing phytoplankton lived in, it was as if the bay experienced it's own blackout. The little guys contained everything within them to shine, yet they weren't shining because of the conditions around them, the salinity of the water. They still had the capacity, but their numbers were dwindling and thus, their net bioluminescent effect. More phytoplankton in the bay, more shine. One shining phytoplankton is good, but billions are better!

What environment do WE shine in? Do we do what we can day in and day out to protect that environment?

The third thing that caused reduced shining was weeds. Yes, weeds. When things stagnate, and weeds or Sargassum proliferate, the population of bioluminescent phytoplankton decrease. How often are we living life in the weeds? What are we giving our attention to that is sucking our bioluminescence right out of us? Keeping us from shining?

Lastly, it's all still kind of a mystery, which always makes things exciting!

“The lagoon is a fresh book to read,” she says. “Sometimes you can have bioluminescence when the conditions are not supposed to be good for it. And sometimes you have the good conditions but you don’t have bioluminescence.” Biologists hope to figure out how and why these anomalies occur. What do these strange and beautiful phenomena have to teach us about the dynamics of tropical ecosystems, and just how resilient are they? Scientists are still on the hunt for answers, but one thing’s certain: It’s hardship that brings to life nature’s capacity to repair and renew.

So what I've learned today is the following:
Keep shining.
Encourage GLOW.
Protect your ecosystem with the proper nutrients and environment.
Maintain your ecosystem.
Keep the weeds out and stay out of the weeds.
Know that hardship and adversity can bring renewal.

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