In the Australian summer of 2008/2009, a hauntingly beautiful phenomenon illuminated the Gippsland Lakes and created scenes that those present will never forget. An unusually high concentration of Noctiluca scintillans, a bioluminescent microorganism, turned the water a bright, glowing, ethereal blue. Photographer Phil Hart was there to document the amazing display.
Noctiluca scintillans – also known as “sea sparkle,” “sea fire,” “sea ghost” and any number of other delightfully romantic-sounding names – are a species of dinoflagellate that feed on algae, plankton and bacteria. In December 2008, a high concentration of blue-green algae called Synechococcus prompted a higher-than-usual population of N. scintillans in the Gippsland Lakes.
When Phil Hart embarked on his annual trek to the lakes, he and his companions discovered a blue luminescence in the water unlike anything any of them had ever seen before. N. scintillans uses its bioluminescence as a defense mechanism, lighting up when it senses a predator coming near. The ghostly glow attracts even larger predators to eat the first predator, keeping the N. scintillans safe to glow another day.
Hart and his friends used this defense mechanism to create some truly incredible photographs. Using a long exposure on his camera, Hart had his friends splash in the water to light up and spread the bioluminescent organisms around. In other photos, Hart used a fast lens and threw sand and pebbles into the water to activate the glow.
The Melbourne-based photographer marvels at how fortunate he was to see this phenomenon. Not only is it a rare sight at this particular location; it is highly unusual to see this concentration of bioluminescent organisms anywhere in the world. The magical event was truly a breathtaking displays of nature’s unexpected beauty.