You may have seen videos and pictures of glowing dolphins and waves, but what is actually happening to cause this blue glow? In reality, “glowing waves” are really just bioluminescent waves. Recently, the beach's waters have been giving off a reddish tone. A red tide is caused by an excessive amount of phytoplankton. There are two types of phytoplankton, diatoms and dinoflagellates. The bioluminescence that we are experiencing in California is caused by dinoflagellates that have grown into large numbers rapidly. When algae grows like this, it’s called an algal bloom. We are currently experiencing a specific type of dinoflagellates algal bloom. This is called Lingulodinium polyedra (L. poly). While this may seem a bit confusing, this is definitely important information. The waves glow blue because movement, like waves crashing or dolphins swimming, causes L. poly to give off a blue light using luciferin, a light-emitting molecule. The microscopic algae is in the waves and when they are tossed around they emit a dazzling blue glow causing the ocean waves to appear “glowing”. The algae bloom can sometimes release oxygen in the waters and/or release toxins that may cause illness in humans and other animals. For example, fish are starting to die from the low oxygen levels. However, only some of these waves are dangerous, and they are mostly just a beautiful sight to see.
The glow of these waves are starting to fade, but can be best seen two hours after sunset. They can be seen in many locations along the California coastline including, Playa Del Rey, Manhattan Beach, San Clemente, Hermosa Beach, Orange County, Santa Monica Pier, and San Diego. In addition, this natural wonder can also be seen in Puerto Rico. The Mosquito Bay, which is located on the southern shore of the island of Vieques, one of the islands in Puerto Rico, is also known to have the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. It was destroyed in Hurricane Maria, but it recovered and is even brighter than before! While most bioluminescent occurrences are seasonal or once in a lifetime, it actually happens year round in Puerto Rico, from dusk to dawn. Although, the brightness does depend on the moon. Unless you are willing to take a trip to Puerto Rico. You may never see this natural beauty ever again in person, but take comfort in the fact that even in a time like this, when all seems lost, Mother Earth is always there, reminding us how spectacular and breathtaking she is.