USD Community Enjoys Pacific Ocean's Bioluminescence "Night Show"

USD Community Enjoys Pacific Ocean's Bioluminescence "Night Show"

As if to say, "Thank You" for staying home while the beaches were closed during this COVID-19 pandemic, the San Diego coastline has been putting on an evening show with a spectacular natural phenomenon known as a red tide for the past week or so.

A red tide is an algae bloom that appears reddish-brown during the day and consists of a large number of single-cell dinoflagellates or marine plankton. While not noteworthy to look at during the day, this red tide transforms at night because it is bioluminescent. As a result, at night it creates a neon blue glow when agitated by crashing waves, swimming fish or the wake of a surfboard.

Not all red tides are bioluminescent and they are unpredictable. It has been about eight years since the last large occurrence in San Diego, although smaller displays have taken place the past few years. Red tides can last a few days or weeks and scientists do not know how long the current bloom will last.

It will, however, be unforgettable to a few USD students who got to witness it firsthand.

Katie Brown, a senior environmental and ocean sciences major, recently went paddle-boarding with her roommate on Mission Bay and described it as one of the most amazing experiences she's ever seen.

"As I touched the water, light streamed from my fingertips and it felt like magic. During the paddle back to shore, I kept thinking how fortunate I am to have seen so many amazing places around the world during my time at USD, yet the most magical experience was right in our backyard, during a time when we needed to feel amazed."

Caroline Grothues, a senior business administration major, said it has also been one of her favorite outings of the current quarantine life. "Swimming in the bay by my house in Mission Beach and seeing the glow in between each of my fingers was so magical. I wish everyone in my life could experience it."

To recreate responsibly, it is important to respect local regulations and avoid crowded beaches and parks. There are 70 miles of beaches and ample uncrowded spaces to view the bioluminescent waves. It is best to avoid Sunset Cliffs and Ocean Beach, as too many people have been crowding there at night. It is possible to plan ahead and seek out open stretches of beach for a memorable evening walk.

Sophia Austin, a junior integrated engineering major, said seeing the bioluminescence in San Clemente, Calif., which is in South Orange County, was one of the coolest natural phenomena she's been exposed to made for a truly monumental connection.

"During a time like this, to have a moment without technology to witness the magic of the bioluminescence is invaluable. I've experienced the ocean and bioluminescence as an avenue for connecting with nature and each other during this time of disconnection."

— Mark Ceder, Assistant Director, USD Outdoor Adventures

Video footage (both shot at Mission Beach) courtesy of Mark Ceder

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