Why Was the Ocean Glowing off California’s Beaches?

Not long ago, a popular question was being rapidly typed into Google: Why was the ocean glowing?

The reason for the question was widespread. The ocean waters off of the California coast had started to glow when agitated. San Diego, in particular, was hit hard. But this wasn’t caused by global warming, a leak at the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, or even a sea monster invasion.

The incident is called bioluminescence, and it comes from tiny microorganisms called dinoflagellates. These photosynthetic creatures are also referred to as phytoplankton and they support the entire marine ecosystem. Out in the open water where there are no plants, large crustaceans and animals feed on these dinoflagellates.

Here’s some video footage of what it looked like to locals in San Diego.

Glowing at Night

During the day, phytoplankton appear reddish-brown. They’re not toxic to people, and in the day they’re not very attractive.

However, at night, any sort of agitation to the water causes the dinoflagellates to release energy in the form of light. This is why you only see the bioluminescence when waves are crashing or when people are surfing.

To get a little more insight, reporter Jorge Ribas talked to a marine biologist for the HSWCoreScienceTechnology channel. Check it out, then find out where else in the world you can watch this amazing sight.

Dinoflagellates Magic

Dinoflagellate growth are sometimes called red-algae blooms. While this is a common term, it is an incorrect description because dinoflagellates aren’t technically algae.

The California occurrences are rare. However, you can visit other parts of the world where this particular species of dinoflagellate thrive naturally. You can go any time of the year and you’ll be able to experience glowing water every night. 

Mosquito Bay in Puerto Rico is the best place to see the glow as it has the highest levels of dinoflagellates living in the water. And for guaranteed sightings beyond Mosquito Bay, stick to places like Isla Mucara in Colombia, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, the Maldives, Bali, and Florida.

Below is footage shot in South Africa, and the video was taken at 10 pm at night in the Langebaan lagoon area.

Why was the ocean glowing? — Sources

Bioluminescence
More Science on HLW