HERMOSA BEACH, CA - APRIL 25: Bioluminescent waves glow off the coast of Hermosa Beach, CA, Saturday, April 25, 2020. The phenomenon is associated with a red tide, or an algae bloom, filled with dinoflagellates which react with bioluminescence when jostled by the moving water. During the daytime, due to the pigmentation of the dinoflagellates, the water can turn a deep red, brown, or orange color, giving red tides their name.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

1211044200

HERMOSA BEACH, CA - APRIL 25: Bioluminescent waves glow off the coast of Hermosa Beach, CA, Saturday, April 25, 2020. The phenomenon is associated with a red tide, or an algae bloom, filled with dinoflagellates which react with bioluminescence when jostled by the moving water. During the daytime, due to the pigmentation of the dinoflagellates, the water can turn a deep red, brown, or orange color, giving red tides their name.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Photo by: Jay L. Clendenin

Jay L. Clendenin

California’s Ocean is Neon - and It’s All Natural!

The California coastline is glowing and it’s not a trick of the imagination. Nature is putting on a show and it’s all thanks to some of the smallest organisms on the planet.

May 01, 2020

Bioluminescent plankton are lighting up beaches from Baja all the way up to Los Angeles. These tiny, single-celled organisms are called dinoflagellates. When they become concentrated in large groups, they discolor the ocean water, resulting in the red tides that are visible during the day. California is currently experiencing a sizable bloom of these plankton, which is causing the amazing bioluminescent phenomenon at night.

What Causes Bioluminescent Waves?
Loading Video...

Let It Glow

The glow emitted by the dinoflagellates is meant to be a defense mechanism to ward off predators and attract other animals that would prey on their predators. Large amounts of movement in the water trigger the plankton to light up which is why crashing waves and playful dolphins look otherworldly.

SAN CLEMENTE, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 30: A surfer rides on a bioluminescent wave at the San Clemente pier on April 30, 2020 in San Diego, California.

1222152512

SAN CLEMENTE, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 30: A surfer rides on a bioluminescent wave at the San Clemente pier on April 30, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

Photo by: Joe Scarnici

Joe Scarnici

SAN CLEMENTE, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 30: A surfer rides on a bioluminescent wave at the San Clemente pier on April 30, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

Rise in Red Tides

Red tides are difficult to predict and can last anywhere between one week to one month. According to scientist Michael Latz from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego, red tide events are increasing locally and globally, but more research is needed to understand exactly why.

For now, the coast continues to light up at night, and Mother Nature proves once again, that she is the ultimate showstopper.

Next Up

Supertrees That Suck Up More Carbon Could Be Forest Climate Fix

Forestation and tree growth are perhaps the most powerful tool for reducing levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth’s atmosphere and tackling climate change. Now genetically modified (GM) ‘supertrees’ that grow faster and rapidly take up CO2 could be used to address the climate crisis.

Channel Islands: A Tale of Two Worlds

Channel Islands National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the United States, yet it is only about 20 miles from the coast of Los Angeles and the bustling surf and sand lifestyle of Southern California.

Year in Review: Nature in Focus Adventures

For many years I've looked back on the year in review and thought about all of the incredible adventures I've experienced and this year is no exception.

How Frogs Boost Their Sex Appeal

Male frogs form ‘boy bands’ to serenade females and woo them into their mating pool.

Galápagos Giant Tortoises Are Mysteriously Turning Up Dead in Ecuador

Despite the tough protections, there has been a spate of tortoises killed in recent months, and officials fear the animals have been slaughtered for their meat.

Baby Bear Takes a Trip on Hallucinogenic ‘Mad Honey’

A bear cub was rescued in Turkey after passing out from eating too much hallucinogenic honey.

The Highest Animal on the Food Chain: Megalodon Sharks

The now-extinct megalodon and its ancestors may have been "hyper apex predators," higher up on the food chain than any ocean animal ever known.

99% of Sea Turtles are Now Born Female. Here's Why.

Global warming is creating a crisis in sea turtles' gender ratios, where 99% of them are being born female. Sea turtle populations have been facing a significant population decline further exasperated by climate change.

Is Climate Change Killing More Elephants than Poachers?

Kenya’s Wildlife and Tourism Board has announced that climate change is now a bigger threat to elephant populations than poaching. Kenya is currently facing an extreme drought that is threatening the livelihoods of people and wildlife within the area.

Coral Reef Survival Relies on Gene Science and Lower Emissions

Coral reefs across the world are under threat as global warming raises sea temperatures and the oceans become more acidic from absorbing carbon dioxide. While nations work to reduce industrial greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, helping coral to adapt to changing conditions could provide welcome relief for affected reefs.