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Sea sparkle and where to see it

Sea sparkle – or bioluminescent plankton – is a magical blue light, made famous in Leonardo DiCaprio’s film The Beach, and whilst it usually occurs in tropical waters such as those around the Maldives islands, it made headlines recently on BBC Earth when a display was captured off the shore of North Wales.

A Splash of Light – Penmon Point Anglesey – Kris Williams © (also main image)

How to find bioluminescence

The photographer behind these incredible photos is Kris Williams, a photographer specialising in time-lapse landscape photography who fully understands the wit and chance needed to locate and photograph bioluminescent plankton.

Kris says ‘As with most natural phenomenon, it is a huge challenge to put yourself in the right place at the right time. Blooms of bioluminescent plankton are notoriously difficult to predict, and they occur most often far out in the ocean. It is only when tidal currents cause them to be washed towards the shore in large numbers that you will be able to see them from land.’

In a collaboration with worldwide travel company Kuoni, Kris Williams and marine wildlife photojournalist Doug Perrine share their key pointers in spotting bioluminescent plankton:

  • Do your research and visit locations where bioluminescence has been seen before
  • You have a better chance to see bioluminescent plankton in the warmer the months between April and November
  • If you hear of a display happening near you, try the same spot again the next night. Some displays occur for a night, others can stay for several weeks
  • Plankton has a circadian rhythm and will only emit bioluminescence during the night time. You need darkness in order to be able to see them properly
  • It is sometimes possible to identify the blooms during the day by looking for clumps of red algae in the water near the shoreline – this is a good indicator that a larger plankton display will be visible here at night
  • When searching a beach at night, turn off your torch, phone light and any other lights, and let your eyes acclimatise to the darkness. If you are shining an artificial light onto the water then you won’t see the plankton glow at all, you need darkness to see them
  • For bioluminescence to occur, the plankton needs to be moved or disturbed. Usually, you will see their blue light when the surf crashes onto the shoreline. If the sea is particularly calm, it’s worth agitating the water to check; throw a stone into the sea and if the plankton is there you’ll be rewarded with a bright blue splash of light.

Vaadhoo Island, Maldives (Indian Ocean) – Doug Perrine ©

Glowing in the Maldives

Bioluminescence can be found all over planet Earth, including Japan, The States, Bali, Thailand and the Caribbean. Doug Perrine recounts the time he last saw bioluminescence plankton in the Maldives:

“As a diver, I was familiar with the phenomenon of bioluminescence. I had experienced this marvel on night dives by turning off my torch and waving my arms and swim fins around to excite the plankton. But it wasn’t until October 2010 when I was on a safari boat cruising the islands of Raa Atoll, in the far north of the Maldives archipelago that I managed to capture it on camera. We had stopped for an evening picnic on the uninhabited side of Vaadhoo Island, and as it grew dark, the wave wash lit up with ghostly blue light. I only know that I saw the above event at Vaadhoo Island in late October and at another island (without a camera) in Raa Atoll in late September. I have also seen bioluminescence at Kihaadhuffaru Island in Baa Atoll in mid-October, but it was less dramatic. Additionally, bioluminescence has been reported from Reethi Beach in Baa Atoll, and Kuredu Island in Lhaviyani Atoll, also in the northern Maldives.”

For recommendations from Kris & Doug on how to capture bioluminescence on camera  – including on your smartphone – visit the Kuoni website here.

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