Bioluminescent bloom lights up waves along San Diego coast

Bioluminescent bloom lights up waves along San Diego coast

Bioluminescent bloom lights up waves along San Diego coast

Bioluminescence occurs when an algae bloom is loaded with "massive numbers of (plankton known as) dinoflagellates, including Lingulodinium polyedra", Scripps Oceanography expert Michael Latz said in a tweet.

A rare red tide washed up on San Diego beaches this week, lighting the shore with a neon blue glow from bioluminescent phytoplankton.

Photographer Stephen Bay, who captured images of the waves earlier this week and said the color reminded him of a Star Wars light saber, likened the bioluminescence display to another natural phenomenon.

Bioluminescent phytoplankton create their own light during a red tide in the rolling surf along the coast of Leucadia, California, Sept 29, 2011.

The photo, taken by John H. Moore and shared on Scripps Oceanography's Twitter page, shows "a red tide offshore San Diego bringing a spectacular display of #bioluminescence to beaches at night".

Monday's was known to stretch from La Jolla to Encinitas - and it's unknown how long it will last; it could be a week or a month.


In some areas, a red tide can be toxic to local marine life. The glow can be seen in full view at night, about two hours after sunset, shining like a liquid version of the Northern Lights. "A small percentage of algae, however, produce powerful toxins that can kill fish, shellfish, mammals, and birds, and may directly or indirectly cause illness in people".

The illuminating colour is due to a microorganism in the water called dinoflagellates. During the day, organisms will swim to the surface to soak in sunlight.

When these organisms gather at the surface for sunlight, they can create an especially intense red.

The displays are unpredictable, though a number of physical, chemical and biological factors are required for bioluminescence.

Written by Mark Saunders for KGTV.

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