Los Angeles: For almost a month now, a phenomenon known as Bioluminescence has graced the beaches from Baja California to Los Angeles. The spectacle is pure wonderment, and the few people who were on the beach kept their "social distance" as they stood in place watching and photographing the light show. Note that many beaches remain closed, and there are many videos from news sources, Twitter, and YouTube where you can watch this incredible display.

This event is a result of red tides caused by a bloom of phytoplankton which are single-celled, microscopic plants that occur naturally in Southern California coastal waters. The red tide can last from days to months. This bloom is reportedly the largest bloom in a decade.

Image placeholder title

Bioluminescent creatures are found throughout marine habitats from the ocean surface to the deep seafloor. (Photo and caption credit: "NOAA")

What exactly is bioluminescence? According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the light emitted by a bioluminescent organism is produced by energy released from chemical reactions occurring inside (or ejected by) the organism. Those who have encountered fireflies have already seen an example of a bioluminescent organism. Most types of animals in the ocean, from bacteria to sharks, include some bioluminescent members. While the functions of bioluminescence is not known for all animals, typically bioluminescence is used to warn or evade predators, to lure or detect prey, and for communication between members of the same species.

Image placeholder title

The NOAA does extensive research on harmful algal blooms. They state that phytoplankton, also known as microalgae, are similar to terrestrial plants in that they contain chlorophyll and require sunlight in order to live and grow. Most phytoplankton are buoyant and float in the upper part of the ocean, where sunlight penetrates the ocean.

The two main classes of phytoplankton are dinoflagellates and diatoms. Dinoflagellates use a whip-like tail, or flagella, to move through the water and their bodies are covered with complex shells. Diatoms also have shells, but they are made of a different substance and their structure is rigid and made of interlocking parts. Diatoms do not rely on flagella to move through the water and instead rely on ocean currents to travel through the water. In a balanced ecosystem, phytoplankton provide food for a wide range of sea creatures including whales, shrimp, snails and jellyfish. When too many nutrients are available, phytoplankton may grow out of control and form harmful algal blooms. These blooms can produce extremely toxic compounds that have harmful effects on fish, shellfish, mammals, birds and even people.

Andrew Loera Photos, Key News Network

Facts based on articles published by "NOAA" with permission.