This glistening beach is not part of a magical Disney or Pixar sequence – it’s actually a perfectly natural occurrence. These glistening dots of light, captured on a beach in the Maldives by Taiwanese photographer William Ho, are caused by microscopic organisms called bioluminescent phytoplankton, or Lingulodinium polyedrum for the scientifically inclined.
These plankton are part of a red tide, which is when the population of phytoplankton like these explodes in a certain location, coloring the water a dull orange-red. Some of the organisms that form red tides are directly toxic to marine wildlife and humans, while others simply produce toxins that accrue in shellfish, making them unsafe to eat.
At night, however, the red waters take on a completely different hue. These organisms react to changes in water tension and to acidity by giving off light, so every wave break and paddle causes them to give off light. Surfers who surf a red tide at night leave a trail of shining water, and steps taken in soaked sand leave shimmering imprints. Boats traveling through bioluminescent red tides leave especially impressive light trails.
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