The Incredible Glow Waves Of Hobart

Tiny plant 'vacuum cleaners' light up the night.

26/09/2016 8:32 PM AEST | Updated 27/09/2016 8:31 PM AEST
Laura Smith
Getting hands on with bioluminescent algae

Nature really can put on a stunning show if it wants to.

For Hobartians, who are privy to the occasional bright winter aurora sky spectaculars, this past week it has been a case of looking down into the water rather than up at the skies.

The waves of Hobart's Derwent Estuary have been glowing like never before thanks to hungry bioluminescent algae, known as vacuum cleaners of the sea.

Laura Smith
Glow waves lap Hobart's Derwent Estuary

It is a dense neon bloom of billions of single-celled algae or plant plankton called Noctiluca scintillans.

Also known as Sea Sparkles or Blue Tears, the Noctiluca has been captured here in full glow by Hobart based marine scientist Laura Smith.

Laura Smith
Bioluminescent algae. You're standing in it!

Smith took the incredible images in Ralphs Bay, off Droughty Point Road in Rokeby, and she has told the Huffington Post Australia that, while she has seen bioluminescence plenty of times before, she has never seen the effect so strong around Hobart.

The Noctiluca luminesce when disturbed and she described a fish swimming through a bloom lighting up like a "glowing blue torpedo."

The waves could be seen glowing from hundreds of metres away.

Laura Smith
Waves of neon.

The Noctiluca scintillans are trapped in the estuary and are very hungry, in fact starving for other algae and bacteria.

Professor Gustaaf Hallegraeff, an expert in harmful algal blooms, has told HuffPost Australia that the Noctiluca is virulent, successful and "acts as a vacuum cleaner", eating everything in sight.

He said the algae was more of a nuisance than a danger to marine life.

Laura Smith
Here's Laura standing in amongst the glow.

The bioluminescent algae were not known to Tasmanian waters prior to the 1990s and warming oceans associated with climate change are part of the reason they have come south.

But to create a bloom of this magnitude, Laura Smith said many conditions need to align, such as warmer spring temperatures, light and nutrients.

Good rainfall and land runoff in the week prior to the bloom pushed nutrients - or pollutants - out to sea and light onshore winds and water currents concentrated the algae in patches.

Laura Smith
Laura Smith says she has never seen the bioluminescent effect so strong.

Smith, who studied phytoplankton in the Southern Ocean for her masters degree, said she could see all the life in the water light up.

"Just as I was calling it a night, a pod of dolphins went past a few hundred metres off shore, detectable as tens of glowing blue fins breaking the surface," she told HuffPost Australia.

Laura Smith
Waves could be seen glowing from hundreds of metres away.

Want more Sea Sparkles and glow waves? There's a Bioluminescence Tasmania Facebook page.

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