The incredible beauty of bioluminescent waters

Shutterstock.com/ Ilya Sviridenko

One of the most incredible displays in the natural world, comes from bioluminescent organisms. This phenomenon can cause water to have a bright blue glow and is incredibly beautiful to witness. People who are under quarantine in California have been stepping outside while obeying social distance practices to see the latest wave of bioluminescence. 

Bioluminescence is when microscopic organisms like algae emit a bright glow in the water. Whenever the algae are disrupted the bright glow occurs. This can happen because of the breaking of waves or the disruption of a boat, even the skipping of a few stones. In some places, this incredible natural wonder happens all year round. There are beaches in Thailand, Australia, and New Zealand that all show the impact of bioluminescence at regular times of the year. In Puerto Rico, there is the now-famous Bioluminescent Bay that is said to shine so brightly that you can read your book at night beside the glow.

Other places only experience this wonder every few years. In these places, it is particularly special as it can change how you view something that you have seen a million times before. San Diego is one city that experiences this. While the surrounding waters of San Diego are beautiful they take on a new level of excellence when the glow comes. 

People know the bioluminescence is happening when the red algae arrive during the day. It is these red algae that will glow bright blue in the darkness later that night. They start to glow when they panic, much like a firefly that glows or a human that screams. As of today, scientists are still unsure why the buildup occurs every few years but they put it down to natural cycles in the changing ecosystem that allows a particular glowing species to thrive every few years. The good news is that these cycles appear to be getting more frequent.

However, once it comes you must move quickly to see it. Scientists are never sure how long the algae will stay around. In previous visits, they have remained for a week while on other occasions they have stayed for a month. Scientists are trying to learn more and more about these appearances but they only have a short time to find data. Whenever a bloom appears the scientists are quick to take samples and try to figure out what caused their presence and if things are similar or different to the last appearance. Using this approach they will eventually get to the bottom of the sporadic glowing algae appearing on their shores but it may take time.

If you are in San Diego right now it is highly recommended to go and take a look. While you may be doing your best to social distance and keep away from people we are sure that you can manage that and still get to see this wonderful show. Always put the health and safety of individuals first though, so please be careful.

With that in mind, be careful swimming amongst the algae as well. I have been lucky enough to see this alga up close twice. Once in New Zealand and once in Thailand. On both occasions, I went swimming in the waters and it was incredible. I dived underneath the water in New Zealand and recreated hadoukens from Street Fighter in the water, I stand up paddle boarded and watched as my paddle created a beautiful neon glow behind it. Yet some reports now say that there are higher reports of infections when these algae are present so there may be some nasty bacteria. Ask your local authorities if it is safe to get in the water. If they give you the all-clear, dive in.