Wish You Were Here: A Sea of Stars in the Maldives

by Carolyn Sotka

Maldives‎-blue sand

(Photo: Will Ho, Maldives)

The ethereal beauty of bioluminescent phytoplankton along a beach in the Maldives was captured by Taiwanese photographer, Will Ho. Phytoplankton, such as dinoflagellates, are microscopic-marine algae that produce most of earth’s atmospheric oxygen.

Dinoflagellates have a circadian rhythm that controls their bioluminescence and photosynthesis on a 24-hour basis. These tiny, single-celled organisms only photosynthesize when they “think” it’s day, and only create bioluminescence when they “think” it’s night.

Bioluminescence is an emission of visible light, the result of a natural chemical reaction, similar to that seen in fireflies. A huge diversity of marine animals and microbes produce their own light, and in most of the volume of the ocean, bioluminescence is the primary source of light.

Luminescence can serve as both an offensive and defensive behavioral response. In the case of dinoflagellates, it could be simply due to wave action against their fragile cell walls, or as a means to ‘shine the light’ on predators at higher trophic levels.

Regardless, the result is stunning and creates a celestial sea of stars, twinkling in your footsteps in the sand or along the shore.

 To learn more about bioluminescence visit the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Web site — CS

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