Bioluminescent plankton create carpet of stars on Maldives beach

bioluminescent phytoplankton

While vacationing in Maldives, Taiwanese photographer Will Ho came across a particularly mystical sight – a long stretch of a beach covered by billions of luminous blue dots. The seemingly magical imagery is actually anything but – it is caused by bioluminescent phytoplankton (Lingulodinium polyedrum). The photographer thought it was ‘blue sand”.

These tiny organisms glow like fireflies whenever they are stressed or otherwise agitated by surface tension and acidity.  They produce bioluminescence only in warm coastal waters. This happens commonly in some of the beaches in Maldives.

The surreal appearance of the Maldives beach was actually down to a massive tide of bioluminescent phytoplankton called Lingulodinium polyedrum however.

The tiny organisms emit light when stressed, be it by the lapping of waves, the carving action of a surf board or other, creating what looks like a network of stars.

The spectacle was famously used by director Ang Lee in his film Life Of Pi, using the phytoplankton to illuminate his protagonist who was lost at sea. Unsurprisingly, it helped him on the way to an Oscar for the movie’s visual effects.

Ho’s complete set of photos can be viewed here.

bioluminescent phytoplankton

bioluminescent phytoplankton

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