If you have been around the ocean at night, or even better diving, you may have been fortunate to experience bioluminescence, a natural phenomenon that can turn nighttime into fireworks. Bioluminescence can be seen on land as well, usually from fungi or microorganisms and of course we delight in seeing the springtime glow from fireflies.

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Jellyfish Emit A Ghostly Glow

However, the most spectacular bioluminescent shows are seen in the sea where different conditions and marine organisms can create the spectacle. For example, nearly half of all species of jellyfish are bioluminescent, normally glowing in a bright blue hue. Even fish and some sharks can be bioluminescent and as they descend into deeper, darker waters upwards of 90% of animals luminesce. (photo – Hakim Mag.)


Communicating with Bioluminescence

Plankton can be responsible for bioluminescence, however rather than glowing themselves, they shoot a bioluminescent liquid into the water. It is thought that this lightshow is an evasive action to distract predators. But plankton may also use their bioluminescence to shine bright and attract a mate. Glowing is definitely a way to communicate, saying both come here or go away depending on who it is intended for.


Sparkling Seas Off Tasmania

In a recent article we reported on what is called Sea Sparkle. A phenomenon that has frequently been witnessed off the coast of Tasmania. Noctiluca scintillans is a bio-luminescent algae that flashes when disturbed, leading scientists to believe that it is a defensive behavior to scare off predators, similar to plankton.


Movement is the Trigger

Since bioluminescence is usually triggered by movement you may have experienced bioluminescence from a boat that leaves a wake of glowing colors. These lucky kayakers were surrounded by a spectacular blue glow as they were paddling in San Diego Bay.


What Makes The Luminescence In Bioluminescence

Atolla_wyvillei_(Operation_Deep_Scope_bioluminescence jellyfish marine lifeIn simple terms it is a chemical reaction combining light-emitting molecules and an enzyme. Plankton for example, will gather energy from the sun, store it during the day and then release it at night for maximum effect. The agitation of breaking waves will often create bioluminescence as a halo effect surrounding islands and along coastlines.

Bioluminescence can be seen around the world but not in all seasons. In the Matsu Islands off Taiwan the glow is seen from April until August every year. Get much more information on bioluminescence from Scripps and from the Smithsonian.

By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network


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