Bioluminescent plankton: aglow in the ocean

By on Feb 26, 2010

If you’ve had the unique privilege of witnessing bioluminescent plankton while diving at night, you know firsthand how beautiful the underwater light show can be. For those of us who haven’t experienced it, this unique phenomenon. So what makes this beautiful show possible? In a recent post at online scuba site AquaViews they share some insight we thought you all would find interesting.

The article suggests towards the end of a dive, to shield your underwater flashlight and wave your hands through the water in front of you, and “be mesmerized by the tiny glowing specs of plankton.” The biology behind boluminescence is a chemical reaction called chemiluminescence where a creature produces light within their bodies. Certain types of chemicals react to produce energy which excites other particles through vibration generating light which causes the glow. The group of chemicals involved to make plankton glow are broadly termed luciferins and the light is produced by a series of oxidation reactions set off by a catalyst called luciferase. The bioluminescence in plankton is very high in several forms of plankton and is a form of cold light or luminescence.

Bioluminescent plankton ocan be found in the ocean all over the world and both zoo plankton and single-celled animal plankton are known to be bioluminescent. Dinoflagellates or copeopods are one of the most common type of bioluminescent plankton. Research has discovered bioluminescence is used by creatures to evade predators and acts as a defense mechanism. Dinoflagelletes produce light a quick flash of light when disturbed to attract the attention of the predator. The flash of light surprises the predator causing it to worry about other predators attacking it, making the predator less likely to prey on the dinoflagellate.

A very interesting phenomenon and if you are interested in checking this out first hand, the article suggests researching dive operators who specialize in offering special bioluminescent plankton dives or snorkeling expeditions. These expeditions tend to occur in absolute darkness to witness the both the starry skies above and the starry seas below. So have you ever experienced bioluminescent plankton during one of your dives?

[via AquaViews]

Photo courtesy of karma-police from Flickr

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