“It wouldn’t last,” Lowe says. “It would just be water in a glass if you took it away from this place. ... It’s just like with people: You’re going to thrive if you’re where you’re supposed to be.”
He straddles his boat and recounts a childhood trip to La Parguera, a bioluminescent bay on mainland Puerto Rico that has nearly lost its luminosity because of pollution and sedimentation. “La Parguera has been dead for a long time. Even when I was a kid, the closest you could get to the water there was when they poured it bucket-to-bucket to show you the glow,” Lowe says. “At some point, it might not be possible to touch the water here anymore.” The group is quiet as we turn our boats toward land.
We paddle close to shore. A woman, who has revealed that she’s staying at the only gated resort on the island, says softly: “He’s right, you know. It’s amazing that we’re allowed in here at all.”
* * *
The next morning, at Lowe’s suggestion, I walk along the picturesque main board-walk of Esperanza — the town closest to the bay — until I reach the Vieques Conservation & Historical Trust, an unassuming building set back from the road. I make my way through a museum of indigenous Taino artifacts before entering an educational center maintained by the trust’s director of community affairs, Mark Martin Bras. He emerges from a side door holding a giant stuffed squid.
Bras’s duties include educational programming and acting as liaison for the trust’s research partnerships with universities, but he moonlights as a guide for Island Adventures, one of the most popular tour companies on the island. “I’ve seen people get religious about the bay,” he says, “I’ve seen people cry. Adults start to talk like children. They’re not losing intelligence; they’re just disarmed. Nature has the power to completely disarm people. Most of the time we live outside of that power, but the bay returns it to us.”
Near dusk, I join Bras on one of Island Adventures’ repurposed school buses. We’re on our way to the bay’s main entrance, inside the public beach compound of Sun Bay. The sides of the bus screech out as branches claw at its paint. When the vehicle reaches its destination, a clearing roughly 20 feet across, a woman in front of me says: “Those would have been great sound effects for a horror film! Actually, this whole trip would be a great plot for a movie.” She changes her tone to that of a mock announcer, “They went to see the dinoflagellates, and they never came back!”