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The Incredible Reason Some Waves Glow Neon Blue

The most commonly seen, and arguably the most awesome, bioluminescent marine organisms are dinoflaggelates. Watch how bioluminescence make waves neon blue.


There’s a lot lurking beneath the ocean’s dark abyss, but light might be one of the most unexpected. In actuality, a large number of sea creatures are "bioluminescent," which means they emit light from a chemical reaction occurring within them. Bioluminescence can be found in bacteria, fish, jellyfish, octopi, squid, and sea worms—and most of them are deep-sea dwellers.

However, the most commonly seen—and arguably the most awesome—bioluminescent marine organisms are dinoflaggelates. These one-celled protists, 90 percent of which are marine plankton, have a very striking feature: when disturbed by a predator or a wave, they give off a bright blue light. So when a dinoflaggelate population increases rapidly, or “blooms”, it creates a red tide. And when it is nighttime during an algal bloom and the ocean water is rough - watch out – because a neon blue wave will be glowing straight towards you!

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While red tides cannot be predicted, there are a few locations around the world famous for glowing blue waves. In the United States, San Diego is the most common city where red tides take place, and surfers are graced with bright blue waves as often as every few years.

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The Maldives archipelago in the Indian Ocean; Mosquito Bay in Puerto Rico, Manly Beach in Sydney, Australia; Luminous Lagoon in Jamaica; Norfolk, Great Britain; Bali, Indonesia; and the Florida and southern California coast are all great hot spots to see, surf, and kayak through bioluminescent waves.

Watch this video of waves at Manly Beach, in Australia:

The phenomenon can happen anywhere in the world and at any time of the year, which adds to it’s inherit magic. The next time you are on vacation, taking a nice stroll along the beach at night, check out the crashing waves – they might just be glimmering a fluorescent blue.

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Illustration by Fabio Manucci

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