Aboard the Atabeyra for the glowworm tour. The critters perform a bioluminescent dance when mating. Photo Credit: Gay Nagle Myers
On a somewhat cloudy evening at 5:30 p.m., on the third day after the full moon, I boarded a 70-foot yacht named Atabeyra (the Taino goddess of fertility) at a marina not far from Grace Bay Beach.
The yacht name was certainly appropriate for what I was about to witness.
Precisely 55 minutes after sunset, and for five to 15 minutes after that, the surface of the water around me was awash in bioluminescence from the coupling of thousands of odontosyllis enopla (glowworms or Bermuda fireworms).
"These worms, unique to the Turks and Caicos, have been performing their bioluminescent mating ritual from the beginning of recorded time," said yacht captain Matt, adding that Christopher Columbus, who was the first European to sail through the Turks and Caicos in 1492, wrote in his logs of the "remarkable fire worms."
What happens is that the female worms rise from the bottom and rapidly swim in circles on the surface while releasing a bright green fluorescent substance.
A female can glow for up to eight seconds and can repeat this process up to 33 times over 12 minutes or until she attracts a male. When a male worm recognizes the cues, it emits short bursts of light while swimming toward the females. When they meet ... well, we all know what happens then.
When not mating, it's a boring life. The worms live in tube-like structures on the sandy bottom of shallow bays to await the next full moon.
The 50 passengers on my glowworm tour certainly were entertained, as was I. The two-hour tour, run by Sun Charters, is priced at $50 for adults and $30 for kids and includes drinks.
The company also offers a Friday sunset cruise downwind on Grace Bay with bottomless rum punch and music, $40/$20; a Night With the Stars cruise that highlights planets, stars, constellations and satellites from the deck of the yacht, $60/$40; and a five-hour sail and snorkel cruise with beachcombing, diving for sand dollars and lunch, $95/$60.