The phenomenon.

NITK is located along the coast of Dakshina Kannada-Udupi, which witnessed bioluminescence for a few days in the month of November last year and was attributed to the bloom of dinoflagellates, scientifically called Noctiluca scintillans and commonly known as sea sparkle. Dinoflagellates are single-cell organisms, and are spread depending on sea surface temperature, salinity, or depth. The light, coming off as a ghostly glow, is emitted due to chemical reactions in their bodies or due to bacterial decay. 

We have seen quite a lot of discussions happening around this topic, admiring the sparkling blue lights along the shore and wishing we were back in college to witness the phenomenon first-hand. Is it only a sight to behold or is something more the case?

What is bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence (glow or light from life) around coastal regions is caused by a chemical process that occurs in the body of marine creatures called phytoplanktons which leads to emission of light. These phytoplanktons or algae bloom in oxygen deficit areas. In this case, the bioluminescence was caused by a major composition of plankton consisting of Noctiluca scintillans.

Why is it worrisome?

Algae excrete large amounts of nutrients into the water body along with forming a thick scum across the sea surface and due to lack of stabilisation/oxidation of such organic nutrients owing to lowered dissolved oxygen levels due to this phenomena in water, it causes massive fish mortality. It is common after polluted rains or after discharge of effluents into the sea. Thus, bioluminescence takes place in a low oxygen, high nitrogen and phosphorus, and higher temperature region which leads to a toxic environment for marine life in general. Scientists are keeping an eye out for any increase in sudden marine deaths to track the nature of the phenomenon in the Mangalore – Udupi region.

While it was a great view for clicking pictures and making videos that went viral on social media, it is a cause of worry for the aquatic environment as it hints at a poor condition of the coastal area and waters. This could be due to global warming, higher discharge of sewage/effluents, increase in pollution or increased turbulence in waves. As we celebrate the rarely occurring blue lights with our cameras, we must also pray that it does not occur too often and do our part in reducing pollution.