On the night of January 22nd, the shores of Hong Kong glowed blue with wave upon wave of beautiful bioluminescent water in a phenomenon commonly known as Sea Sparkle. However, this magical display, caused by blooms of a microscopic dinoflagellate called Noctiluca scintillans, was brought on by something less-than-inspiring: environmental pollution.


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Noctiluca glow when they’re disturbed, which is why the blooms are primarily visible on the shores, where they’re tossed by waves. This recent bloom was caused by agricultural runoff – fertilizers and other chemicals washed from farmland into the sea by rain. The Noctiluca that feed on these chemicals are not toxic in and of themselves, but other similar organisms are, and the ammonia they excrete as waste can help make the toxins released by other blooming microorganisms even worse.

For the time being, however, photographers willing to spend the night on some long-exposure photography are being treated to a truly special opportunity!

(h/t: theatlantic, huffpost)

Image credits: Kim Cheung/AP

Image credits: Kim Cheung/AP

Image credits: Kim Cheung/AP

Image credits: Kim Cheung/AP