During the beautiful summer months of the Puget Sound Region, we have a fascinating phenomenon that happens all around in our marine waters. Yet, many people know nothing about it or even know that it is happening here. What am I talking about? Bio-luminescent plankton blooms!
The most common plankton species that is responsible for the glowing sparkles in the water is Noctiluca scintillans A.k.a. Sea sparkles. Noctiluca is a microscopic, non-photosynthetic marine dinoflagellate. Wow, what a mouthful! Dinoflagellates in general have characteristics of both animal and plants but are classified as neither. Noctiluca feeds on phytoplankton and small zooplankton species. This organism luminesces (glows) when physically disturbed, which is believed to be a defense mechanism to scare off predators. (EOL, 2017)
This summer was the first time I experienced this phenomenon with my own eyes. I was one of the many that believed I needed to travel to distant lands to see these magnificent organisms. Out of curiosity I started researching these blooms and decided to explore our nearshore waters at night. Low and behold I found them in all their magnificence! Running the sparkling water through my hands was like magic. I decided at that moment that I needed to share this experience with others.
SWS in partnership with Fort Casey State Park held our first bio-luminescent event in August. We invited the public and SWS volunteers to join us on the docks at Fort Casey to play in the water. We wanted people to have their own experience, so I gave a quick introduction to the group of almost 30 attendees about the amazing fireflies of the ocean. Then we sent the group to one of the two docks to stir the water and see what they could see. My favorite comment from the evening was from a woman who said, “I feel like Tinkerbell with her magic wand!” Please watch for our Bio-luminescent events coming up next year. If you want to learn more about this Noctiluca scintillans or Bio-luminescence in general, please see the list below.
*Special Note: The boat launch at Fort Casey State Park is normally closed to the public after dark.
Noctiluca scintillans and Bio-luminescence:
- Aglow in the Dark, The Revolutionary Science of Biofluorescence by Pieribone, Vincent
- Bioluminescence: Living Lights, Lights for Living by Thérèse Wilson (Author), J. Woodland Hastings
- Encylopedia of Life (EOL). 2017.
- Noctiluca scintillans (Macartney) Kofoid and Swezy 1921.
- http://eol.org/pages/901153/details. Accessed 22 Sept 2017.