Paddling Into Bioluminescence

By Andrew Kollar
Posted 8/17/17

Kayak Guide Sam Kaviar, owner of Kayak Nisqually: Puget Sound Adventures, embarked on his first journey as an owner of the company last week.

In his “maiden voyage” he and his participants …

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Paddling Into Bioluminescence


Kayak Guide Sam Kaviar, owner of Kayak Nisqually: Puget Sound Adventures, embarked on his first journey as an owner of the company last week.

In his “maiden voyage” he and his participants witnessed the magic glow of bioluminescence in McAllister Creek near the Nisqually Refuge.

Kaviar is a Fulbright scholar and his outgoing personality, passion for the outdoors and background in biology make him a guide suitable for any voyage. His company is host to a range of tours including the nightly bioluminescent tours, full-day tours and two-and three-day camping trips with meals provided.

Before starting Kayak Nisqually, Kaviar graduated with a Bachelor of Science from The Evergreen State College in Olympia where he studied the diversity of wildlife in Washington state. He has worked for the United States Geological Survey, collecting data from the Nisqually Delta and the Nisqually River and has led kayak tours in Norway and the San Juan Islands.

Kaviar now lives along the Nisqually Reach as a caretaker of the property. His living situation would not be ideal for most of modern society as it does not have cable TV or broadband internet. The lack of technology allows for him to “slow down” and take in the beauty of nature. Kaviar likes to call the entertainment in his house “Puget Sound TV.”

“We have the most beautiful sunrises in the Puget Sound, sunsets are gorgeous too but we have the most righteous sunrises,” Kaviar said.

The journey started from the boat launch at Luhr Beach where Kaviar launches his six kayaks from his trailer pulled by his 2008 Kia Spectra. Kaviar admits his unique trailer and car combo often sparks conversation at the launch. He said it was an easy decision to invest more into the company by purchasing better boats and equipment and save money by putting a hitch onto the car he already owned instead of buying a truck or van.

From the launch, the group of eight went northwest toward Drayton Passage to watch the sunset from hundreds of yards off shore. The group then took a moment of silence allowing them to take in the sound of the water and all of the surrounding wildlife.

Wildlife is abundant in the surrounding Nisqually Reach area which include whales, porpoises, sea lions and birds due to the recovery of the saltwater flat through efforts of the Nisqually Indian Tribe and the preservation of the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, as well as efforts upstream by the Nisqually Land Trust.

The group ranged in age and experience levels. The youngest in the group was 11 years old and had never been in a kayak before. Although she was weary at first, she gained comfort as the voyage continued.

After the sun fell behind the horizon, Kaviar led the kayak adventurers in the opposite direction toward the Nisqually Refuge through McAllister Creek. The area is full of history and is the site of the December 1854 signing of the first Indian treaty in Washington Territory. The treaty gave tribes the right to reserve traditional fishing, hunting and gathering.

As the light from the sun disappeared, the mysterious, bioluminescent light took its place. Bioluminescence is the light emitted by an organism. It is produced by the energy released from the organism that causes a chemical reaction and lights up the water. Every stroke of the paddle caused the water to glow a bright green, similar to the color of glowstick.

“When they were playing with the bioluminescence it was like they were all kids again. It’s like magic at their fingertips,” Kaviar said.

To create more glow, Kaviar encouraged the group to splash their hands into the water, causing the organisms to glow brighter. When the participants brought their hands out of the water a few organisms would still be glowing on their skin for a few seconds after their hand left the water.

“I thought it was the coolest thing I have ever seen. It was really exciting,” said participant Andrea Fercho.

The group spent more than 30 minutes playing with the water as most of them had never experienced such magic before. The organisms were filled with enough energy to create a glowing trail left in the wake of the kayaks and allowed the group to see each other in the darkness of the night.

As the group returned to shore, marking Kaviar’s adventure a success, even the 11-year-old who was hesitant at the beginning didn’t want to leave her kayak.

“It was a memorable first time for my kids,” Kris Woodrow said. “I could have stayed out there longer, it’s nice out. I totally could have stayed out longer even though I have to work really early tomorrow.”


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