Why is the Water Glowing Neon Blue?
Have you seen the Bioluminescent, the blue, glowing water like a scene from Avatar? Some surfers plan their globe-trotting trips around this phenomenon. Boaters can find themselves in a dream-like moment as their wake leaves streams of neon as the boat cuts through the water. Travel agencies show photos of glowing tropical lagoons to entice clients.
I admit that a few of the top things that I love are the water, people, and things that sparkle. One can only imagine how excited I am to see this again. I am not the only one! The bioluminescent is the buzz at the beach and the marinas.
What Causes the Bioluminescent in the Bay?
I spoke to future marine biologist Lucia, age 10. “Bioluminescent is created by a glow in the dark chemical that is released at sunset by dinoflagellates,” Miss Lucia. Dinoflagellates are a tiny one cell organism and are not harmful to humans. During the day, these creatures are in the deep red or maroonish lines of blooming algae floating in the water. This phenomenon happens when the water is warm enough to cause dinoflagellate algae to bloom. The past few days have been perfect conditions. Miss Lucia has been reading all about in it in her junior scientist book and ran home to eat dinner so she could come back to the beach.
Sighting bioluminescent is a rare occurrence on the East Coast and Lower Chesapeake Bay, but it is becoming common the last few falls. What a fantastic way to end the summer vacation season!
What Does the Bioluminescent Look Like?
Do not expect the Chesapeake Bay and waters where there is the bioluminescent just to glow neon blue. The glow is triggered by movement. Waves or cresting waters sparkle and glow. Night kayakers can see neon blue drip like diamonds from their oars. Even the currents, ripples, and air bubbles glow. Joe served on a US aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. His favorite thing to do after a long, loud day was to walk to the very aft of the carrier and watched the bioluminescent dance and trail from the propellers and wake of the ship. It was his happy, peaceful place.
Why and How Does the Bioluminescent Glow?
The bioluminescent is a defense mechanism. The plankton gives off a quick luminescent blue flash when it encounters a mechanical disturbance from a boat, wave, or fish. The quick blue flash can startle the plankton’s prey and lure larger prey over to feast on the Dinoflagellates’ prey. Pretty smart for a one-cell organism!
The talk at the marina among the local fishing community is a mix of wonderment and concern. The dinoflagellate algae bloom does release a toxin that affects fish, crabs, and oysters. The main problem is if large extensive blooms can cause fish kills and high mortality rates in the oyster population. Another name for the bioluminescent is red tide. Biotoxcity is how the single-cell organism protects itself. This can deplete the waters of its oxygen and nutrients.
Can the Bioluminescent Hurt Me (or Humans)?
Bioluminescent Can Hurt the Seafood We Eat (therefore us…)
These beautiful creatures are toxic. Humans can be harmed indirectly through the seafood that we consume. The effect the toxins have on the fisheries and oyster beds, etc.… assist and propel other toxins and disease. Eating seafood from areas deemed unsafe due to red tide can be highly toxic, even deadly. Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning caused by the dinoflagellates toxin can paralyze an adult’s muscles, including those muscles used for breathing in 2 hours. Paralyzation and death are NOT the most common issue with eating exposed seafood, but it can happen.
Can I Swim in the Bioluminescent?
The toxin is small amounts do not affect humans. Surfers and swimmers alike have frolicked unharmed in the water during a bioluminescent event.
Too much of a good thing is never a good thing
Swimming in a large bloom can make you sick from the toxins being absorbed through your skin or by accidentally swallowing the water. Another consideration is the fact that the bioluminescent can be a call to higher trophic predators. Even bigger fish eat bigger fish! Viewing from your boat or even land may be your safest bet!