Bioluminescence turns Australia's shores fluorescent blue

Story highlights

  • Bioluminescence turns Australia town's shores florescent blue
  • The phenomenon is created by billions of marine organisms that are lighting up in the dark

(CNN)The shores of Hobart, Tasmania, have been twinkling a bright, neon blue the past few days, turning the water's surface into a scene that looks out of this world.

Photographers have flocked to the glowing waters to witness the bioluminescent phenomenon firsthand.
Jo Malcomson, owner of Blackpaw Photography, splashed in the water Monday while capturing the bright display at South Arm, a town on the outskirts of Hobart.
    "It was very much like entering into a magical wonderland. It's a childlike wondrous experience, which completely absorbs one's attention and captures one's imagination," she said.
    The bioluminescence is caused by blooms of large single-cell organisms called dinoflagellates. The particular dinoflagellate glowing in the Australian waters is the Noctiluca scintillans species.
    Dinoflagellates are very common in the ocean, explained Michael Latz, marine biologist and bioluminescence expert at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California.
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    "For reasons we don't understand, they become very abundant and we call those blooms. During the night time, we get these fantastic displays," he said.
    These displays are fairly common and happened on coastlines in Australia, California, the Caribbean, as well as other locations.
    Malcomson said the blooms were a regular occurrence in this area, but the high concentration is fairly uncommon. The bigger the group of blooms, the bigger the potential for a light display in the water.
    The intense display of light occurs when the dinoflagellates are stimulated by external forces. These forces can be anything from a boat passing by, a wave breaking or someone throwing rocks into the water.
    The dinoflagellates on the coast of Tasmania are probably on their last leg, Latz said. Noctilucas create blooms that eventually burst and die.
    In the meantime, people can enjoy the breathtaking display.
    Malcomson said the past few days have been like stepping into a scene from the sci-fi adventure movie "Avatar" and that her family loves it.
    "The kids just go utterly crazy," she said. "My kids loved it so much I had to take them back the next night fully prepared with water pistols and buckets."