Thursday, 9 September 2010

Phosphorescent footprints

On warm, still nights like tonight, especially at this time of year, we are sometimes treated to spectacular displays of marine phosphorescence - more correctly bioluminescence - when we dip an oar in the water, or start the outboard, or even when we step out of the boat and into shallow water on the jetty by mistake, and leave a trail of phosphorescent footprints behind us on the walkway.

It's hard to describe this wonder of nature, and even harder to photograph it, but I can best compare it to a fleeting representation, beneath the surface of the water, of a clear starry sky - but many times more brilliant.

Bioluminescence is largely a marine phenomenon, and in fact is the predominant light source in the deepest oceans of the world. It is caused by the agitation of many millions of single-cell organisms, mainly a type of algae known as dinoflagellates, which absorb and retain whatever sunlight is available to them, giving it off as bioluminescence when disturbed.

The effect is so beautiful, and so other-wordly, that it has the power to render our uninitiated guests speechless with awe.
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