by Meteorologist Kerry Anderson, Video and photography by Taro Amano.
Last night I stood on the sand at Zuma Beach and witnessed the greatest light show I have seen (sorry Disney, nature trumps anything you can produce). The combination of a full moon and light eddy circulation made for perfect conditions to view bioluminescent algae turn waves into glowing blue lights. For the past few days, we have heard of reports of this phenomenon from Baja to Malibu. It is not unusual for Southern California waters to see periodic blooms of algae in the spring or summer. How long they last is unknown. Usually only for a few days. But this year the bloom is extensive and so may last for a longer period.
The light-producing algae, float on top of the water and have a red appearance during the day and so are dubbed the “red tide”. This year the bloom is so extensive that there is concern that it is depriving other organisms of oxygen leading to their large scale death, decay, and now a growing stench.
The red algae have bioluminescent properties. Since I am a meteorologist and not a marine biologist, here is how the experts from the Smithsonian explain this phenomenon. “Bioluminescence occurs through a chemical reaction that produces light energy within an organism’s body. For a reaction to occur, a species must contain luciferin, a molecule that, when it reacts with oxygen, produces light.”
While unattractive during the day, at night the bioluminescent properties make for a spectacular light show. The blue light appears as waves agitate the algae bringing the light to the surface. The light speeds across a breaking wave producing a rippling flash of light, about once a minute, bringing shouts of WOW from the onlookers and sending surfers out for an unforgettable nighttime ride.