NOEL KING, HOST:
Before Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, it was a big tourist destination. It was best known for its glowing bay. Mosquito Bay is home to one of the world's brightest bioluminescent bays. NPR's Merrit Kennedy took a trip there to look for signs of recovery.
MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: On a normal night, there would be dozens of tourists in this mangrove-lined cove named after a legendary pirate ship. Tonight, it's just us.
ANGIE HERNANDEZ: Go ahead and look over on the right.
KENNEDY: We paddle out on kayaks with Angie Hernandez, a guide for the Vieques-based ecotourism company Black Beard Sports. The sky is filled with stars. Something streaks overhead.
HERNANDEZ: I saw that as well. It was really bright. It was a shooting star.
KENNEDY: But tonight we're looking down at the water for glowing creatures called dinoflagellates. These single-celled plankton light up when they're disturbed. Scientists think it's a defense mechanism. The species found here glows blue-green, and it's called pyrodinium bahamense aka...
HERNANDEZ: The whirling fire of the Bahamas.
KENNEDY: When the hurricane hit, Maria doused the saltwater bay with freshwater, impacting its delicate chemistry. And the storm's winds were so strong they may have pushed water and the dinoflagellates out of the bay.
HERNANDEZ: We have there just sort of like the mechanical of whoosh (ph), you know, flushing.
KENNEDY: And it can take time for them to accumulate once again. Mark Martin-Bras is the director of research for the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust, which takes weekly samples to monitor the bay. The situation provides an opportunity, he says, to learn more about how this ecosystem deals with powerful hurricanes. And it's also a reminder.
MARK MARTIN-BRAS: The attraction of this island and the power of it comes from the natural things, and you want to protect them rather than exploit them.
KENNEDY: After other hurricanes, it reportedly took months before the bay started glowing again, Hernandez says. And for weeks after Maria, it was dark. But tonight, the bay is once again showing some light.
HERNANDEZ: Real quick. Look over your right-hand side and dip your paddle in.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oh, it's a lot.
HERNANDEZ: It's a lot over here. It is a lot brighter. I'm pushing the paddle forward, and you're able to see a ball, like a formation of light.
KENNEDY: When you stick your hand in the water, it glitters and glows with tiny individual flickers of light like diamonds.
HERNANDEZ: (Singing) Dinoflagellates are a girl's best friend.
KENNEDY: Life after Maria has been extremely difficult. Hernandez went for weeks without regular running water. And she's only had a handful of tours come through. But tonight, she can see the bay is coming back.
HERNANDEZ: Seeing this now, you know, after seeing it diminish and seeing now - this gives me a lot of hope.
KENNEDY: It's at a fraction of its usual brightness, but there are definitely signs of life.
Merrit Kennedy, NPR News, Vieques, Puerto Rico.
(SOUNDBITE OF MELORMAN'S "FORGOTTEN PLACES")
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