A2: Why are there glowing beaches around the world?

Title: 6 Incredible places where the oceans glow

Source: Mother Nature Network (www.mmn.com)

Article date: July 14, 2016

Summary: This article talks about the glowing beaches that have been seen around the world and the science behind why they are glowing. There are phytoplankton in the sea that respond to electrical signals by emitting a blue glow when moved or disturbed making the beach look like its filled with stars.

Connections: In class we have discussed that microbes are everywhere, that they can have good (medications) and bad (diseases) effects and that they are beautiful. Well this article certainly focuses on the beauty that microbes are responsible for. To more specifically name a topic that has been covered in class, this article really relates to the physiology of a cell. The physiological reason for why the phytoplankton glow is because there is a reaction called luciferin-luciferase and it occurs in organelles called scintillen. Thousands of these organelles are what causes the bioluminescence. Phytoplankton without scintillen do not have the bioluminescent effect.

Critical analysis: This article was interesting and caught my attention because there were these beautiful beaches that had blue waves that seemed to be glowing and I was curious as to why/what made this happen. I learned that the scientific name for the specific type of phytoplanktin is Noctiluca scintillan. Noctiluca scintillan is responsible for what makes the beaches look like they are glowing. Noctiluca scintillan is a single celled protist who’s cytoplasm glows when disturbed. As far as scientific accuracy goes there has been some disagreement as to whether or not the glowing organism is phytoplankton or ostarcod crustaceans. The Huffington Post wrote an article that quoted a Cornell professor who argued that the organisms are actually ostarcod crustaceans but are commonly mistaken for phytoplankton. Other articles that I found credited phytoplankton for the glow in the waves. So it seems that article is scientifically accurate, there is just some argument between scientists as to what organism is actually responsible for the glow.

Question: While reading this article a question popped into my mind. Why do these organisms only sometimes show themselves? What makes them sometimes glow and sometimes not and what is the determining factor there? I know that they probably are only seen in certain places (that all seem to have warm climates) because that is most likely their ideal environment. But the article says that some ┬átimes they show up while other times they don’t. Which makes me wonder what causes this to happen.

4 Comments for “A2: Why are there glowing beaches around the world?”



It’s interesting that there is disagreement about what organism is glowing. I wonder if there has been attempt to isolate the species for proper identification? Or maybe it is possible that both organisms both have phosphorescent capabilities.

As for your question, I found that some reasons for changes in glowing capacity can depend on seasons. For example, in summer there is more freshwater runoff which brings more nutrients allowing for larger populations of the glowing organisms. The higher concentrations might contribute to the ability to actually see a definitive glow. Another thought is that that glowing organisms need to be at the top layers of the ocean so it can actually be seen. It does appear that warmer climates are preferred for these organisms.



This is a really fun article to read, and the title is very intriguing. Although I am sure that these microbes do exist and are being studied, I wouldn’t quite credit this article as a reliable source for information on this phenomenon. For example for number 6. Matsu Islands, Taiwan it says the water is glowing blue and that it is from Noctiluca scintillans, but Microbewiki says that this microbe is known for glowing red and being the “fire of the sea.” It would be really interesting to read a more credible scientific article on these phosphorescent microbes. According to microbewiki the glowing organism Noctiluca scintillans lives in shallow, aquatic areas where photosynthetic prey is available for them to eat. They may not glow as often if the current area’s they are living in don’t have an adequate amount of nutrients for them to survive or glow?

Chelsea Brown


Your post caught my eye because I had a personal experience with bioluminescent phytoplankton when I studied abroad in Belize. They appeared when we kicked our feet in the water by the dock in quick bursts of light – more like a chain reaction, one after the other and not all at once or for a long period of time which seems to be happening in the photos in this article. Furthermore, the color of the light, if I remember correctly was green (though after some digging I see there are other colors as well). Therefore, after reading the ostracods article, I do believe that may be what was actually in those photos and I think “yayy!” there are more things out there that glow.

To answer your question, I only know phytoplankton to glow when disturbed, and after some quick googling, I found a National Geographic article that says they do not glow during the day or unnecessarily to save energy. Some say bioluminescence is response to predators but I think they are referring to the bigger animals that glow.



The article you selected for this assignment was truly captivating. It is rather interesting to me that is not a definite answer yet to what particular organism is responsible for making these bodies of water glow. This makes me wonder if these areas have been studied extensively to determine the “true” organism. After doing a little research, I was able to find a little information as to why bioluminescent phytoplankton do not glow all the time. Based on information I found, they do not glow all the time in order to conserve energy. Because it takes an enormous amount of energy to produce the chemicals that allow them to glow, they do not glow during the day time in order to conserve this energy.