A gorgeous spectacle that left locals in awe. The usually dark waters in parts of the Cape have turned a bright blue incandescent colour. Many are wondering what caused the spectacular event and if they will be able to see it anytime soon.

Areas such as Fish Hoek, Gordon’s Bay and Kogel Bay are lucky enough to experience this unique phenomenon and while some were able to see the show in person, others are only able to enjoy the pictures.

Bioluminescent phytoplankton (noctiluca scintillans) lighting up the night-time surf at the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve near Cape Town.

We spoke to Mark John Gibbons for the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the University of Western Cape to find out exactly what is bioluminescence.

“Bioluminescence in our coastal waters comes from two primary sources. The one is a microscopic organism that goes by the engaging name of Noctiluca scintillans (meaning scintillating night light). It is a single-celled critter called a dinoflagellate, and although it may be related (albeit distantly) to the bad boys of red tides that are toxic, this species is not photosynthetic but a carnivore. It gives off light when it is disturbed by water movement – hence when it gets caught up in waves it looks as though the waves are phosphorescent. The reason it gives off light is nifty. If it is disturbed by a predator, Noctiluca gives off light to make the predators of the predator aware that there is something worthy of being eaten around to be eaten,” says Gibbons.
Another shot of the amazing light show.
“The other species that gives off light is the pink meanie – a type of jellyfish that gives a painful sting and that can be very common in local waters at some times of the year. Its name is Pelagia noctiluca. Quite why it gives off light is anyone’s guess as it has not really been investigated. Both species are found in the plankton. They do not have the power to move against horizontal water currents and are simply moved around by ocean currents. They can accumulate in Bays and at ocean fronts, they can get trapped inside the wave line and they will hang about as long as their water hangs about. This may be a few hours or a few days,” adds Gibbons.
A cloudy picture of the mountain during and the blue water.

If you didn’t catch the show there may still be a chance to see it in coming days but otherwise watch this awesome time-lapse of the event instead:

Pictures: Eric Nathan Photography

Article written by

Aimee Pace

Aimee is an avid gamer, enthusiastic yogi and animal lover. Addicted to anime, coffee and plant-based meals. Current favourite pastimes include, sewing and learning Japanese.