Understanding the natural wonder of bioluminescence

Think you’ve seen it all? The beauty of sea sparkle has to be seen to be believed. Learn what it’s all about.

Have you heard about the natural ocean wonder of bioluminescence? It’s when the sea sparkles a neon blue or green or even red. This beautiful sight is definitely one for the bucket list.

The ocean can glow and glitter like the stars in the sky thanks to a natural chemical process known as bioluminescence, which allows living things to produce light in their body.

Marine creatures like some fish, squid, tiny crustaceans and algae produce bioluminescence to either confuse predators, attract prey or even lure potential mates.

We humans can witness this natural phenomenon when there is lots of bioluminescence in the water, usually from an algae bloom of plankton. The bioluminescent sea will glow when it’s disturbed by a wave breaking or a splash in the water at night. 

Algae bloom sea sparkle events are caused by calm and warm sea conditions. But you can see specks of bioluminescence when it’s created nearby by a light-producing marine creature.

Sparkling night lights have been photographed across Australia, including in South Australia. Check out these ones – you’ll be in awe:


Port Lincoln, South Australia, in 2017

Preservation Bay, Tasmania, in 2017 (image courtesy of Matthew Holz)

Jervis Bay, New South Wales, in 2016 (image courtesy of Alien Shores Imagery)

Nature really can put on a stunning show, but it’s not as easy as it looks to photograph ocean bioluminescence. Check out these hot tips to capture the cool glow.

Feeling inspired to capture the beauty of nature? Check out our blog about taking nature photos on your mobile phone, or learn from expert photographer Carl Charter in his tips for underwater photography.

(Main image courtesy of Chatwin Photography)

This story was originally posted in April 2018.

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