Bioluminescence in Jervis Bay

Everyone knows that Jervis Bay is famous for white sands, crystal clear waters, resident dolphins and our visiting Humpback whales, but did you know it’s also one of the best places in Australia to see the mysterious and magical phenomena sometimes known as “Sea Sparkles”, or Bioluminescence?

What the heck is it?!

The most common glowy things found here in Jervis Bay are microscopic bioluminescent algae known as Noctiluca. They are so small that thousands of them can fit in a single drop of water. Bioluminescent plankton don’t glow during the day because it requires a chemical reaction powered by energy to make the glow happen all the time.

Where and when can you see it?

The sheltered beaches of Jervis Bay are the ideal place to see this amazing sight, as the Noctiluca can wash ashore in large numbers, and are not so easily dispersed by winds and tides.

It’s notorioiusly hard to predict the best nights for Noctiluca scintillans, but it seems to be most common in the warmer months in Jervis Bay, but may be found at any time of the year. In 2018, it was found as the weather began to warm in August. In 2019, it was found in mid May, and 2020 saw incredible displays in mid January.Noctiluca floats easily on the surface and will concentrate on the surface if undisturbed. During the day, thick blooms of Noctiluca appear as a soft pink haze, known as the ‘red tide’ on the surface of the water, sometimes so thick that the bottom cannot even be seen in shallow water. At night, the bioluminescence is best observed in total darkness well into the evening.

A good tip also seems to be to come after rain when nutrients flow into the bay acting as fertiliser, stimulating a phytoplankton bloom. Following days which have been calm and sunny after decent rain are usually the best nights to look for ‘Sea Sparkles’.

Why do some marine animals glow in the dark?

Marine creatures like some fish, squid, tiny crustaceans and algae produce bioluminescence to either confuse predators, attract prey or even lure potential mates, a similar tactic used by humans in raves.
Unlike people that attend raves, naturally occurring bioluminescence has the additional side-effect of being one of the most enchanting natural phenomena humans can ever witness.

How do they do it?

Certain types of chemicals, when mixed together, produce energy which ‘excites’ other particles. This causes vibration that in turn generates 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.

How do you take pictures of it?

Capturing this incredible sight on camera is notoriously tricky due to the extreme low-light conditions necessary to see this natural light show. If you’re a budding photographer and want to know how to get the best shots, check out “THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE – HOW TO FIND AND PHOTOGRAPH SEA SPARKLE BIOLUMINESCENCE” but Tasmanian Geographic.So for those of you keen to see it for yourself, use these helpful tips, along with a bit of luck, and join us for yet another reason to visit Jervis Bay!
Also follow local photographers like Jordan Robins, Maree Clout and Joanne Paquette for amazing shots and to see when it’s happening in real time!