The Southern California coast is being lit up by a spectacular display of bioluminescent waves for a month now. An electric blue, glowing color lights up the dark ocean at night as the water rolls and crashes. Experts have said that this bioluminescence on the California coast is due to an increase of tiny microorganisms that belong to the plankton family.
But these microorganisms are starting to break down-and it stinks. By day, the high amount of these microorganisms by the coast, spurs a red tide, displaying a different scene by emitting a dark reddish or brown color staining the water that smells like sulfur.
But along with the putrid smell, reports of dead fishes along the beaches and lagoons are surfacing raising concerns on the residents and experts.
The Fire of the Sea
Residents from San Diego up through Los Angeles, California, have been watching the spectacular bioluminescent waves crash on the shore since March. Often referred to as 'the fire of the sea,' the glowing effect is due to the microscopic, single-celled organisms known as dinoflagellates, particularly those of the species Noctiluca scintillans.
These microorganisms from the plankton family migrated to the surface of the water to bask in the sunlight, with as many as 20 million cells per liter gathering at the top and stay quiet for some time. They produce an enzyme and two chemicals, namely, the luciferin and luciferase.
The combination of the enzyme and chemicals result in the signature blue waters that last up to 100 milliseconds. These single-celled algae eject two chemicals from their body that creates the bioluminescent light, according to ecologist Rebecca Helm of the University of North Carolina, Asheville.
Additionally, a researcher from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, Michael Latz, explained that the glowing light serves as the defense mechanism of the microorganisms when they feel movements in the water or when a nearby predator takes hold of them as a prey.
However, the microorganisms are reportedly degrading and releasing a nasty smell like sulfur, according to MailOnline.
From Blue Light to Red Tide
According to Latz, the smell is caused by the red tide breaking down. "When it reaches its final phase, then it's going to die off. The organisms, as they break open and die, they're releasing organic material into the water," Latz told the Los Angeles Times.
During a bloom, these microscopic organisms gather in the trillions and turn the water reddish-brown, hence the name "red tide." Each cell contains a little bit of "sunscreen" that gives it color. Video footage by Scripps PhD student Erik Saberski. #RedTide #LaJolla pic.twitter.com/9mQzmrqRoX — Scripps Institution of Oceanography (@Scripps_Ocean) April 29, 2020
Additionally, the odors are also caused by the bacteria that are feasting on that organic material. Putting it all together and the breakdown of the red tide producing odors, and bacteria producing odors makes the coast smells very stinky.
When a photochemical reaction occurs in the cells after being tossed around by the waves, it results to the bloom dying. This then causes the unpleasant smell for the residents and has become deadly on many marine life.
There have been reports of dead fishes due to the harmful toxins emitted from the red tides, and some surfers have contracted rashes and symptoms of asthma because of the dying organisms. But the Scripps Institution said that the 'end is near' for these organisms as the lifespan of the bioluminescence to see and smell will soon subside.