Dazzling Blue ‘Sea Sparkles’ Emit a Glittering Glow on the Shores of Tasmania

bioluminescence sea sparkles

Photo credit: Leanne Marshall

Beach goers in Tasmania have recently been witness to an incredible sight—at night, the waters are emitting an electric blue glow. Although this sounds like something out of science fiction, the reason for the sea sparkles can be easily explained. The cerulean brilliance is caused by bioluminescent organisms—specifically, Noctiluca scintillans—that when disturbed by waves or currents, flash a blue light. With so many of them in the water, the tiny cells are seemingly illuminating the entire coast.

Bioluminescence is a more than aesthetic occurrence—there's an evolutionary reason for this unique characteristic. According to Gustaaf Hallegraeff, a professor in aquatic botany at the University of Tasmania, the sparkling is a defense mechanism to ward off predators. “Imagine,” he told ABC News, “there's a little animal that wants to eat this plankton and suddenly it flashes at you.” Continuing, “There's actually evidence that shows if you offer an animal a choice between a luminescent plankton and a non-luminescent plankton, they avoid the luminescent one.”

Noctiluca was first spotted back in Sydney Harbor in 1860, and it has only grown more prominent as the years go on. “In the 2000s we saw it really move southwards and now it's here permanently in Tasmania,” Hallegraeff remarked. This could do with global climate change. “We have some evidence that ocean currents and the warming of the oceans have contributed to it—it's definitely a species that is showing a spectacular range expansion in the last 20 years.”

Noctiluca scintillans, aka sea sparkles, bring some magic to the Tasmanian coastline.

The effect is stunning in photographs, too.

bioluminescence sea sparkles

Photo credit: Sally Todd

sea sparkles

Photo credit: Sally Todd

tasmania sea sparkles

Photo credit: Brett Chatwin

tasmania sea sparkles

Photo credit: Leanne Marshall

blue glow from sea sparkles

Photo credit: Matt Holz

See more in the video below.

h/t: [IFL Science, Mashable, Reddit]

Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met and Manager of My Modern Met Store. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.

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