For many of those who don’t live near open waters, the idea of “glowing waters” may appear foreign for the most part. In fact, it may seem more suitable for a scene in a movie such as Avatar. But for those lucky enough to have caught a glimpse of Pyrocystis fusiformis, the “glowing waters” effect is as real as it gets as the deep ocean crashes onto land, transforming the waves into a brilliant glow in the night.

Pyrocystis fusiformis is a unicellular marine algae with the ability to produce bioluminescence of a blue color in response to ocean movement.  Bioluminescence is used by Pyrocystis fusiformis as means of protection against predators either by startling them or notifying secondary predators of their presence. Though able to live unicellularly, when these planktons are found in a high concentration, their glow becomes more vibrant, creating the breathtaking illusion of “glowing waters.”

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Pyrocystis fusiformus is an algae from a group of organisms referred to as “dinoflagelates.” This algae is famous for its particularly strong bioluminescence. This species glows when stimulated physically or chemically. If its been a while since they were stimulated, even walking into the room can make the tiny cells flash! These are the critters responsible for the world renowned “glow tides,” which are really just algal blooms. It is hypothesized that the algae glows when disturbed to draw attention to the fish and invertebrates that feed on it, therefore making them targets for bigger predators.

Microscopic view of pyrocystis fusiformus: Martin Dohm

Fusiformus in a jar (as viewed when stimulated by a tap on the table upon which it rests): Damenix