Glowing algae make a nice nightlight

This is a picture of a wave crashing on the New Jersey shore. It glows because of dinoflagellates — little, single-celled plants, animals, and bacteria that float around on the water, moving about with the help of long, moveable protein strands called flagella. Some dinoflagellates are bioluminescent; that is, chemical reactions inside their bodies produce light. The result is glowing oceans. Or, as maker Caleb Kraft recently discovered, the dinoflagellates also make for a soft blue nightlight with really nifty special effects.

You can watch Kraft's nightlight project at YouTube. It's pretty simple to do at home. At it's most basic, all you need to do is purchase some bioluminescent dinoflagellates online, keep them alive in your home, and give them a good shaking occasionally to trigger the chemical reaction.

A couple more helpful links:
Where Kraft bought his dinoflagellates
• A guide to other dinoflagellate dealers, and to the care and feeding of unicellular organisms
• Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who are studying dinoflagellate bioluminescence to better understand how it works and what role it plays in the ecosystem
A detailed explanation of what dinoflagellates are and why they glow

Via Treehugger

Image: Red Tide Luminescense, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from piratelife's photostream


  1. if you ever get the chance go out and night swim in that stuff, its a real blast, the critters glow when the water around them is disturbed so you get glowing trails when you drag your hand through the water and you can see every fish around you glowing and leaving a glowing trail

      1. When you’re swimming in the glow,
        And you really have to go,
        Diarrhea! Diarrhea!

  2. Years ago when I graduated from high school this was going on at our beaches.  We spent night after night just hanging out and watching glowing blue waves crash.

    The bioluminescent tide is really a beautiful sight.

  3. some years back, taking a night time romantic walk along a bolivar peninsula beach (outside galveston), our wet footprints started to glow.    much dimmer and more diffuse than this blue.  and i remember it more greenish, like firefly luminescence.  that bathwater temperature water used to “itch” too.  i think we decided it was jellyfish larvae.

    we didn’t have twitter or even cellphones with cameras back then.  so it’s all just a memory, in my head.

  4. I find that photo even more interesting because the surf foam forms an almost perfect map the USA on the beach. 

  5. I’ve seen this phenomenon twice, once on the beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the other along the shore of Bellingham Bay in Washington.  In North Carolina we found very small shrimp like creatures about the size of your fingernail,  that glowed with the same blue color in the above picture.  In Bellingham, it was more of an algae bloom as you could see the glow unless something stirred the water, like a fish or a stick drug through the water.  Incredible experiences though.   

  6. A
    few years ago my buddy and I were night surfing around 10pm during a huge swell off Cowells Beach in Santa Cruz, CA.  The
    water was (naturally) cold and clear, and that night the dinoflagellates were
    doing their thing in a beautiful green sparkly way.  I recall having
    difficulty paddling because I kept trying to watch the reaction to my hands
    moving through the water, not to mention the monster fricken waves rolling through.

    been surfing ~1 hour when I saw him riding a wave in on his belly as I paddled
    back out.  I took a mental note to
    ridicule him about it later and continued to head out beyond the breakers.  As I rode the next wave, I saw him standing
    on the beach waving wildly at me to come in…so I did.

    been alone in the water, waiting for the next wave, when something caught his
    eye off to the right and about thirty feet away.  As he explained it, something *very* large
    was leaving a sparkly green trail as it headed directly for him until
    it turned to circle him at about 15 feet. 
    As best he could tell, it was over 12 feet long and circled him at least
    twice before he caught the next wave in, passing me on my way back out in the
    process.  My buddy was never a teller of
    tall tales, and Santa Cruz surfers (really, all West Coast surfers) are well
    aware of the potential visit from “The Landlord,” but that night is one which
    stands out, clearly, in the dark of my memory. 

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