When you can see the sea in the dark

You may have seen bioluminescence, also known as phosphorescence, in the movie Life of Pi. Or possibly in the Gippsland Lakes (“Plankton put on a show at Lake Victoria”, The Age, 29 January 2013).

Glowing splashes of water illuminated by bioluminescent plankton in the Gippsland Lakes (click to find out more)
Bioluminescent plankton lighting up splashes of water in the Gippsland Lakes in January 2009 (Photo by Phil Hart)

The short explanation for what causes it is that it’s oxidisation of the chemical luciferin, in the company of the enzyme luciferase, releasing energy in the form of light. This reaction is found in all kinds of animals and fungi, from fireflies and glow worms, through to Anglerfish and Colossal Squid, and of course marine plankton.

The long answer is best found by listening to Beth in our podcast from 24 January 2013. Go do that, along with our other previous shows.

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