DRUM - - Natural Sciences -

Have you ever been to the sea­side in the evening and seen the water close to shore shim­mer­ing? If you have, it’s be­cause of a species of plank­ter called

Noc­tiluca scin­til­lans, also known as sea sparkle. Th­ese sin­gle-cell or­gan­isms are bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cent (liv­ing or­gan­isms that pro­duce light) when dis­turbed. It’s thought the glow­ing is a type of de­fence mech­a­nism to keep other crea­tures from eat­ing them.

Sea sparkles are so small that a sin­gle drop of water can con­tain thou­sands of them. They’re nor­mally found close to shore in warmer sea water and there’s also more of them when the weather is warm.

Sea sparkles are a species of di­noflag­el­late, which can also cause red tide. This hap­pens when there’s a build-up (or bloom) of cer­tain types of di­noflag­el­lates, which turns the sea bright red. Red tides can poi­son fish and humans can get sick from eat­ing shell­fish caught dur­ing red tide.

Sea sparkle, a type of phytoplank­ton, glows in the dark when dis­turbed. The word plank­ton comes from the Greek word “plank­tos”, which means “wan­derer” or “drifter”. The study of plank­ton is called plank­tonol­ogy.

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