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Florida’s West Coast gets a brush with bioluminescence

The shore of a beach features bright blue water against a night sky
Tammy Fryer
Shunnache Photography
Bioluminescence along the shores of Anna Maria Island.

Anna Maria Island is currently experiencing a breathtaking display of bioluminescence along its shores.

Beachgoers in the evening and early morning hours along the shores of Anna Maria Island are noticing a brilliant display of oceanic biology.

The beach is currently home to displays of bioluminescence, a natural phenomenon where certain living organisms emit bright blue lights across marine ecosystems.

Bioluminescence occurs frequently along the east coast of Florida, where single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates make the waters shimmer and shine.

However, residents and beachgoers along Anna Maria Island have noticed an increase in evenings featuring blooms of bright blue.

The cause of this recent rise in bioluminescent activity along the western waters of Florida is a current topic of discussion among researchers and the public alike.

In a statement to the Bradenton Herald, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program Director David Tomasko said that the increases are likely due to a specific kind of dinoflagellate called Noctiluca scintillans, more commonly known as the sea sparkle.

The shore of a beach glows bright blue against a dark sky
Tammy Fryer
Shunnache Photography

While certain dinoflagellate species like the sea sparkle are harmless, others that create similar showings of bioluminescence can be responsible for increases in dangerous algal blooms.

Researchers are currently analyzing the waters to more accurately determine the cause of the recent increases.

The peak season for bioluminescence observance is typically throughout the summer months, which feature the greatest annual intensity of bioluminescent sea life and darkest evening skies.

For those wanting to observe bioluminescence firsthand, the best times to head to the shore are on days closest to a new moon where little to no moonlight will reflect off the water.

Tyler Luginski is the WUSF Stephen Noble Digital News intern for fall of 2023.