Red tide causing surf to glow in parts of California

Credit Jami Leslie Feldman

Credit Jami Leslie Feldman

The spectacular display is caused by large aggregations of dinoflagellates (from the Greek: whirling whips) including Ceratium falcatiforme and Lingulodinium polyedra, which emit a neon blue glow at night, spurred by waves or movement in the water.

The last time the shores of San Diego were lit up by a bioluminescence-producing red tide was in 2013.

It may look otherworldly, but a striking display of light seen on some beaches in Southern California this week has a very earthly (or ocean-y) explanation. On this occasion, it is caused by a bloom of phytoplankton brought by the natural phenomenon known as the red tide.

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Bioluminescence expert Michael Latz says the glow hasn't happened in California in almost five years.

"We're getting reports that the bioluminesence runs from La Jolla to Encinitas, but we don't know how big the red tide is", Latz told the Union-Tribune on Tuesday afternoon.

A dinoflagellate (whirling whip) bioluminiscent phytoplankton.

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The current red tide in San Diego is not harmful or toxic, though.

The phenomenon was first forecast on Monday by Michael Latz, an internationally known bioluminescence expert at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He says scientists can't predict when they'll occur and they really don't understand the dynamics. "As the name suggests, the bloom of algae often turns the water red", NOAA states, adding that not all algal blooms are harmful.

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