Bioluminescent Plankton Illuminate the Shores of Hong Kong


Strange fluorescent blue patches of water glowing off Hong Kong’s seashore look magical, but it is actually disturbing and potentially toxic, warn marine biologists. The blue glow is indicative of a destructive algal bloom created by something called Noctiluca scintillans, also nicknamed Sea Sparkle. It resembles algae and acts like algae, but it is in fact a single-celled organism that theoretically can function as both plant and animal.

plankton photo

The plankton and Noctiluca become more plentiful when nitrogen and phosphorous from farm run-off surges. These kinds of blooms are caused by farm pollution that can be damaging to marine life as well as local fisheries, says University of Georgia oceanographer Samantha Joye.

“Those pictures are magnificent. It’s just extremely unfortunate that the mysterious and majestic blue hue is created by a Noctiluca,” said Joye. She also added that this is a problem acknowledged by scientists that is growing worldwide.

photo plankton hong kong

What is actually rarer is the opportunity to photograph its shimmering quality, which is only visible when the water is disturbed. Kilometers of shoreline look magical when viewed, creating an unreal glow that is as wonderful to look at whether in person or in pictures. Since Noctiluca glows when they are disturbed, the blooms were visible on the shores at night as they were tossed by the waves.

plankton hong kong

This recent bloom was triggered specifically by fertilizers and other chemicals washed from farms and into the sea by rain. The Noctiluca that feed on these chemicals are not toxic, but other organisms similar to it can be poisonous. The ammonia they emit as waste can make the pollutants released by other blooming microorganisms even worse.

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Patricia Ramos

Patricia Ramos

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.