Watch Electric Blue Bioluminescent Waves Light Up California’s Monterey Bay

Kayla Blanton
·3 mins read
Photo credit: Kevin Key / Slworking - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kevin Key / Slworking - Getty Images

From Prevention

  • As a wildfire outbreak threatens California, the coast is still experiencing bioluminescent waves.

  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium tweeted that the light was caused by a “bloom” of phytoplankton known as dinoflagellates.

  • Bioluminescent waves have been lighting up California’s coast since April.

As a wildfire outbreak threatens California, some blazes worsened by copious lightning, Monterey Bay is experiencing an additional natural phenomenon—one that’s thankfully, much less dangerous. Over the weekend of August 15, the beach sparkled with bioluminescent waves that emitted a hypnotizing turquoise glow.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium tweeted the news to locals, explaining that the light was caused by a “bloom” of phytoplankton known as dinoflagellates. (The aquarium is working on narrowing down the specific type.) “When a dinoflagellate is shaken up, a light-emitting chemical reaction inside the plankter produces a blue flash that startles a would-be predator, limiting their effectiveness,” the aquarium wrote. “Imagine a strobe light going off with every bite of a sandwich!”

The thread continued: “On their own, each dinoflagellate is just one sparkle in the night. But with a big bloom of them—sometimes called ‘red tides’ though they’re not always red and have little to do with the tides—their collective trillions agitated in the waves produce aquatic fireworks.”

The aquarium noted that, sometimes, dinoflagellate blooms can be “noxious” to humans and marine life. “Some make toxins that accumulate in shellfish and affect their predators,” they warned. “And others make soap-like substances that can harm seabirds and irritate humans exposed to their suds.”

These blooms can be somewhat sporadic in timing and sometimes, are short lived. The Monterey Bay’s seemed to dissipate by the weekend’s end, per the aquarium. But it stuck around long enough for residents to capture some amazing photos, including this one, taken by photographer Johnny Chien in which the teal radiance is juxtaposed with ominous lightning.

“When Mother Nature gives you two light shows together, it’s time to quit photography, because every future picture that I take, is all down hill from here,” Chien captioned the post. “Lightning, meet my friend, bioluminescence waves!”

In another photo also taken by Chien, smoky air caused by the fires is settled over the beach, dulling and hazing the phytoplankter’s glow. According to The Los Angeles Times, at the time of publication, there are 34 wildfires burning across the state, the largest one being the LNU Lightning Complex fire, which claimed over 124,00 acres in three days.

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