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Mark Martin Bras Feature Article

An interview featuring VCHT's Mark Martin Bas by SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE

"Puerto Rico's Bioluminescent Bays Are Brighter Than Ever"- Jennifer Nalewicki April 6, 2022.

The nightly light shows have rebounded from Hurricane Maria’s devastating blow.

Mark Martin Bras was a child the first time he saw Puerto Rico’s famous bioluminescent bays. His father and uncle took him one evening to Mosquito Bay, and he was mesmerized by the electric-blue glow of the water beneath the pitch-black night sky.

“I remember my father scooping some water into a bucket and explaining to me, scientifically, what was going on,” he says. “I was surprised to learn that living organisms were the ones causing the water to glow.”

That educational moment had a profound effect on the then eight-year-old, who was born and raised on the island. Now 51, Bras has built a career out of studying Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays, and currently serves as a field researcher and director of community relations for the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust (VCHT), a nonprofit that strives to “foster, protect, and conserve the environmental, archaeological, and cultural resources of Vieques,” a 52-square-mile island off of Puerto Rico’s eastern coast.

Bras describes seeing the bioluminescent bays as “magical,” not only in his own personal experience but also for the many travelers who have visited the island. While marine bioluminescence isn’t specific to Puerto Rico, since there are many species of oceanic creatures with the ability to glow (examples include certain types of jellyfish and even some sharks), Puerto Rico’s bays are often considered some of the best in the world for witnessing the natural wonder. Just five ecosystems on the planet have enough of these planktons to truly qualify as bioluminescent bays, and three of them are on the island. Not only that, but many of these glowing species reside in the darkest depths of the oceans in areas difficult or impossible for humans to reach, whereas in Puerto Rico people can experience this phenomenon from a boat or even from the shoreline.


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