As night falls, things that go bump in the dark tend to scare and provoke nasty thoughts. But in the dark, Nature gets to show off her other side, seizing the stage in the absence of light. We marvel when something happens that’s out of the ordinary, and beyond our imagination. And at these particular places on Earth, creatures have an ability that you could call a superpower.
Bioluminescence. The secret light show of the underwater world. Certain species of flora and fauna have a survival mechanism that causes their bodies to produce light, or at least reflect what little of it there is in the depths. We might have seen demonstrations of these abilities online from time to time, like a mythical bedtime story. But you can witness these incredible displays of light and life without having to plumb the ocean’s vastness.
If you can get your timing just right, you’ll get a peek into a wild water show unlike anything else.
Torrey Pines State Beach, San Diego, California
Dinoflagellates, the uncanny organisms that create this light, have gravitated to the shores of San Diego, creating algal blooms, or red tides by day. As night falls, the breaking of the waves along the coast aggravates these massive congregations of dinoflagellates, transforming the waves into beams of light that travel across the beach.
Keep a close tab on the scientific discussion surrounding this topic at this area to get the best sense of when to check it out.
Mosquito Bay, Vieques, Puerto Rico
Also known as the Vieques Bio Bay, this has become one of the premier locations to witness some bioluminescent beauty. Strict preservation regulations and protection of the star attraction mean there are specific protocols to follow, but spending the night here gives you the best views of the lights.
Ever wondered what it would be to ride a spaceship? On a kayak trip in the dead of night here, over swirling shimmering swathes of underwater lights, it comes pretty close.
Jervis Bay, Australia
Nature caused quite a stir when holiday-goers at this beach in New South Wales witnessed flashes of light coming from the shore. As it turns out, it was visits by the travelling performances of sea sparkles, or a strain of plankton that emits light when disturbed.
Known to tour around the waters of the region, this is not a regular fixture. But catch it in season, and enjoy a magnificent night stroll along the beach unlike any other, with glowing footprints for starters.
Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
Hordes of plankton cause the marine visual exhibition that has given this island global renown gathered along the shoreline. Ostracod crustaceans or seed shrimp, also bear responsibility by colliding into the sand. The illumination that results is their reaction to aggravation or danger. You realise the light you see is the dying gasps of these organisms, stirring a profound sense of mortality.
Sometimes things do shine the brightest right before they burn out. But, such is the circle of life, ever mysterious and wondrous.
Space Coast Kayaking Tour, Florida
Sometimes, it’s not enough to behold beauty from a distance. You want to immerse yourself within the vistas, letting the palpable wonder overwhelm you. Enter Florida’s nighttime activity: bioluminescent kayaking. Paddle across underwater ecosystems, that burst with light once disturbed by the action of the other animals residing.
As fish burst from the water, coated in luminous majesty, you’ll have to blink twice and remember that you’re still on Earth, and not an alien planet.
Punta Cocos Beach, Holbox Island, Mexico
During the day, seeing a stretch of pristine beachfront encroached by a red tide of dormant plankton might leave a sour taste in the mouth. But this quiet Caribbean seaside destination keeps you distracted with other pleasures till the sun sets. Then, the red tide turns to stars, and like the proverbial ugly duckling, you’re taken aback by the surprising beauty that radiates from the shores. But don’t stop there. Wade into the waters and take a closer look. Seeing the lights slip through your fingers is an enchanting experience.
Preservation Bay, Tasmania
The Australasian region has seen a significant number of bioluminescent sightings over the years. The jagged, obsidian coasts of Tasmania’s northwest being visited particularly often by the dinoflagellate hordes. The rugged landscapes are prime terrain for stirring the plankton, filling the cracks and spraying the air with their incandescent retorts. The elemental dance of Earth, water and light makes for epic compositions.
See Firefly Squids at Toyama Bay, Japan
Thanks to the geography of the underwater canyon in the vicinity, powerful currents force swarms of these fairy-esque creatures to the waters of Toyama Bay. With tentacle tips packed with photophores, the amassing of these creatures forms constellations and celestial formations that are a sight to behold, as you watch from a boat. Fishers see it too and prepare to harvest tonnes of the famous squid for its characteristic, unusual acquired taste.
Blue Grotto, Malta
Stunning enough on its own, stark cliffs stand guard over a cave with hidden treasure within. While not filled with luminous creatures, sunlight hits the azure waters inside that give a fluorescent hue to the interiors, making for a surreal boat ride. It’s undoubtedly the highlight of a day excursion to the islands of Capri, the pinnacle of prettiness in an already gorgeous landscape.
Waipu Caves, New Zealand
As science has discovered more animals with this ability, these caves in New Zealand have grown in popularity for their luminous residents: glowworms. You’ll need to get wet and dirty on the trek to their front door, but the sights that await will be well worth it. As tunnels open into stalagmite ceilings and caverns, the galaxies of ethereal visions are the glow worms welcoming you to their humble abode.
The tricky thing about these microscopic marvels is their unpredictability and ambiguous Nature. Science is still grappling with a cohesive understanding of their migratory patterns, so getting to witness these feats takes a certain amount of luck. But the blessed few in the right place at the right time will never forget it. Many have found themselves mystified and stunned, frightened and amazed, all at once, and you could too.