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when mother ocean puts on a light show

OBX ocean illuminated with bioluminescent light show!

The plankton rolled in with the surf this weekend and for two nights there was a light show in iridescent blues and greens that reminded us all that the beauty of nature exceeds any work of art by human hands.

The scientific term is bioluminescence; the effect is one of wonder. This short video by Doug Kenyon over at Moments on the Outer Banks is the next best thing to standing on the beach.

There is a scientific explanation for it.

Plankton are single-celled plants and animals that float everywhere in the oceans. Dinoflagellates are the species of plankton that almost always give off the light. The plankton have a group of chemicals inside them called luciferins; when the dinoflagellates are stressed, they release a catalyst that creates light. There is no heat to the light—the scientific name for cold light is luminescence. The dinoflagellates are considered animals, so the light is bioluminescence.

No one is sure why bio-luminescence is a part of the plankton’s makeup, although it seems to be useful in disrupting predator behavior. The theory goes that when stressed by too much moving water, which might mean there is a predator nearby, the reaction occurs.

Of course, moving water would also be a breaking wave, and for anyone lucky enough to be on the nighttime beach on the Outer Banks, it was a light show like no other.

Kip Tabb, HOBX correspondent

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