Every year Californians hold their breath for the elusive phenomenon of bioluminescence, in which microscopic ocean organisms emit a glowing light in the right conditions. Over the past week, the bright neon-blue waves have been turning heads in Long Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and Huntington Beach.
Nature photographer Mark Girardeau, who runs Orange County Outdoors, told USA Today that the phenomenon has been ongoing, with the highest concentration being in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach areas. The light is as “bright as it was in 2020,” said Girardeau.
A recent post from Orange County Outdoors predicted bioluminescent waves at Laguna and Sunset Beach these days, but photographer Patrick Coyne posted an update on January 9 saying that the phenomenon seems to be decreasing now.
Given that conditions are so difficult to track, you really have to be in the right place at the right time to see bioluminescence for yourself. That’s not to say conditions won’t line up again soon — but as Dallas Smith of Blue Water Kayaking told the NY Times, “people can always look up instead of down to catch a magnificent sky full of stars.”
What is bioluminescence?
Bioluminescence is the light emitted from a living organism through a chemical reaction in its body. In Southern California, the magnetic blue glow is created by the lingulodinium polyedra dinoflagellate population. Each cell of this microscopic organism is only 35 µm in diameter, so plenty must be present to create the blue radiance. That, along with strong winds and currents makes these blooms pretty elusive and those that get to see them are lucky indeed.
When is the best time to see bioluminescence in California?
California often sees this phenomenon in the ocean right around the end of the summer. While there’s no sure way of finding them, you can attempt to track sightings on social media by following hashtags like #bioluminescent or #bioluminescence. You can also follow your local oceanography institutes and nature accounts like the aforementioned @orangecountyoutdoors and @patrickc_la.
Written by Ashlyn Davis and Jamie Ferrell