Heatwave sparks millions of bioluminescent plankton off Welsh coast

The recent heatwave has caused a rise in bioluminescent plankton on Britain's shores. Last week, this spectacular and rare phenomenon was spotted at Aberavon Beach in Port Talbot 

24th July 2018
Bioluminescence

Rising temperatures around the UK are thought to have resulted in a surge in bioluminescent plankton along our shores. 

The phenomenon has occurred in a number of places around Britain in recent weeks, including Aberavon Beach in Port Talbot, South Wales, where it was capture on camera by photographer Tim Bow.

What do glowing plankton look like?

Swarms of bioluminescent plankton are so rare on British shores that most of us will have never seen the spectacle. Tim Bow's images offer a taste of what these beautiful glowing creatures look like under a dark sky.

Glowing seas
Bioluminescent plankton at Port Talbot©Tim Bow/Apex
Bioluminescence
Bioluminescence occurs due to a complex chemical reaction ©Tim Bow/Apex
glowing seas port talbot
Plankton aren't the only bioluminescent creatures – it's a characteristic exhibited by fish, squid and fungi too ©Tim Bow/Apex 
plankton
These glowing plankton are usually associated with hot climates, so seeing them in Britain is a real treat ©Tim Bow/Apex
What is bioluminescence?

Here are a few facts to help explain what bioluminescence is, why some animals exhibit it and where it occurs.

Fungi
Ghost fungi ©Getty
  • Bioluminescence, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is "the biochemical emission of light by living organisms."
  • The light is produced by a chemical reaction – more specifically, an enzyme-catalysed chemoluminescence reaction.
  • Bioluminescence is a 'cold light' – less than 20% of the luminance produces thermal radiation (heat).
  • It's a characteristic present in many marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as a number of terrestrial organisms, including fungi and flies.
  • Scientists believe that 90% of deep-sea marine life produces bioluminescence in some form.
  • It is usually used to warn off or distract predators, to communicate with individuals or groups of the same species, or to attract prey.
Squid
Caribbean reef squid ©Getty
  • It is usually expressed as blue-green light – more easily visible in the deep ocean
  • Quantula striata, native to the tropics of South East Asia, is the only know bioluminescent land snail.
  • Most bioluminescent creatures express their light in flashes up to 10-seconds long, but a number, including some species of fungi, emit an almost continuous glow.

Health & safety 

It is advisable to wear sensible footwear and take extra care on uneven surfaces along the seashore or near cliff edges. Young children and dogs should be supervised at all times. 

Main image ©Tim Bow/Apex

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