UNUSUAL SITE: The bioluminescent glow of the Ortoire River, Mayaro surrounds a bather at night. The luminescence is caused by a plankton that emits a brief flash of light when disturbed. The river has bloomed with billions of these organisms, and for the past month, the river been putting on an amazing light show at night, which has brought thousands of people to the east coast of Trinidad. —Photo: Richard Charan

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Residents profit from glowing river

By Sue-Ann Wayow sue-ann.wayow@trinidadexpress.com

IF you are heading to Mayaro today, do not wait until nightfall.

It is likely you will end up in traffic backing up at the Mafeking River bridge on the Naparima/Mayaro Road.

The gridlock is being caused by thousands of people who for the past two weeks have been descending on the river to see one of the most astounding natural phenomenon, the bioluminescence of plankton blooming in the Ortoire River.

The glowing river had been known by area residents for decades but it was only when the weekly Monday Express series “Remembering Our Past” featured an article with photographs captured by Express editor/writer Richard Charan two Mondays ago, that it became national news.

Family have used the opportunity to make late night visits to the riverside to witness it for themselves. The site has been transformed into a  buzzing entertainment area, with food and entertainment, and residents  making profit from boat rides and paid parking.

The glow is the result of a chemical reaction of single cell organisms called dinoflagellates (pryodinium bahamene), a type of plankton that has bloomed along parts of the Ortoire, because of the favourable conditions caused by the mix of cold salt water flowing upriver during the high tide, and the warmer fresh water coming from the interior.

The luminescence of photosynthetic dinoflagellates is influenced by the intensity of the day’s sunlight. The tiny flashes of luminescence occurs as a brief (0.1 sec) blue flash, when the organism is disturbed (as when the water is stirred). Each individual gives off this brief flash, and when the dinoflagellates are abundant as in the Ortoire now, billions of individual flashes yield brilliant results. 

Member of Parliament for Mayaro, Winston “Gypsy” Peters, in a press release yesterday, welcomed visitors to Mayaro.

Peters said: “It is anticipated to be another successful period for domestic tourism and the added value spin off for the domestic economy of Mayaro and environs. This marketing blitz of Mayaro as a premiere holiday destination is further heightened by the hype and overwhelming curiosity of thousands of visitors and residents, who have been flocking the Ortoire River (near the Mafeking Bridge) for the past six weeks to experience ‘The Glow Phenomenon’ of the water.”

The MP  is advising visitors to obey all traffic regulations, have a designated driver, and  walk with garbage bags.

For the campers, Peters is encouraging all to be alert and obey flag warnings.

As of the predawn hours of yesterday morning, the river was still glowing.

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