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Algae-caused neon waves make California’s ocean shimmer

A mesmerizing neon-light show glowed along Southern California’s shores.

The occurrence is triggered by algae colonies, basic plants growing in water that bloomed along a stretch of coastline from Baja to Los Angeles in March.
During the day millions of algae, called dinoflagellates, appear on the surface of the ocean as a “red” tide and give off an unpleasant, sulphur-like odor as it declines.
“Red tides” crop up all over the world but they don’t always show flashing neon as night falls.

The spectacle has drawn awed visitors to beaches to watch the lights.

A chemical reaction involving the enzyme luciferase and the compound luciferin formed by the algae is what induces bioluminescence, the production of light by a living organism, when the mass of dinoflagellates are combined by waves or greater life at sea.
Some red tides produce dangerous toxins that can be fatal to mammals and fish but the algal blooms in California are not poisonous, rather they act as a source of food. Harmful algal blooms occur when algae grow out of control and scientists suggest that along coastlines, they are increasing in number. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, they may not only inflict damage to aquatic organisms but, in extreme situations, can impact human safety.

While HABs exist along the coastline of every state, maybe the best recognized “red tide” occurs along Florida’s Gulf Coast almost every summer. NOAA monitors the phenomenon in the hopes of giving better predictions to communities about when a “red tide” might appear.

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