Bioluminescent plankton

[Australia] Neon blue bioluminescent plankton is appearing more frequently and in areas where it hasn’t been seen in recent history, Institute of Marine and Antarctic Science senior lecturer Dr Christopher Bolch says.

Keen photographers and families have flocked to North-West beaches to observe the blue flash of disturbed Noctiluca scintillans or sea sparkle blooms.

Milkshake: During the day, bioluminescent plankton blooms appear milky and pink in colour. Picture: Cheryl Nebauer

Dr Bolch said the plankton blooms had been observed on the state’s east coast since the 1980s, however, he was surprised by recent sightings between the River Tamar and beaches at Somerset.

“We are seeing more incidents, more of the year and further south,” Dr Bolch said.

“That’s likely due to gradually warming waters from the East Coast of Australia that are sticking around down south for longer.”

Dr Bolch said the accumulation of sea sparkle in certain areas is dependent on wind and tide conditions.

He said an oncoming westerly front may disperse the bloom in coming days, however, in some areas it may die before it travels.

“If the material dies you could get some localised deoxygenation in coastal areas,” Dr Bolch said.

“It also omits a bit of ammonia as it dies so it may smell a bit.”

Dr Bolch said the blue blooms would be most visible on nights with minimal moonlight.

He said the blooms do not pose a significant threat to humans, however, swimming through them could cause a dermatological reaction.

Milky, pink-coloured water observed during the day can indicate where a bloom is concentrated.

 

Photo: In bloom: Blooms of bioluminescent plankton flash blue when disturbed by crashing waves or predators. Picture: Julie Head

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