Why do Maldives Beaches Glow at Night?

Maldives beach glow

Anyone who’s ever dreamed of going to the Maldives for their bucket lister vacation has heard of the mesmerizing seas of this island. It’s really not a surprise considering that the Maldives is globally known for having one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

But did you know that there’s more to this island’s crystal clear waters?

Imagine topping off your incredibly busy day with a romantic walk by the shore at night. Just as the sun goes down and the sky is filled with stars and the light of the moon, the waves break on the sandy shore and you see the waters illuminate.

The blue glow covers an entire section of shallow waters and while it’s an absolute beauty, you can’t help but wonder how this crystal clear water turns into a luminescent Kool-Aid at night.

You might think that it’s an island gimmick. A set of lights shallowly buried under the sand to make the sea glow at night and turn it into a tourist attraction.

Well, it is a sought-out tourist experience but this phenomenon that transforms the sea into a field of glowing stars naturally came from Mother Earth.

This magical effect is caused by the bioluminescent planktons.

How does it actually work?

Read on to find out.

What is the Bioluminescent Beach Phenomenon?

The bioluminescent beach phenomenon happens when the sea emits a blue glow at night. Instead of having artificial lights or some sort of chemical dumped into the sea like what other people think, the light is actually created by sea planktons.

In the sea there are microbes and microorgainsms who are able to produce a glow that is vibrant and there are several different planktons that are able to make this blue vibrant shimmer.

Contrary to the calming effect that it brings us, sea planktons actually emit light when they are stressed or agitated.

The light that they give off is their natural defense mechanism to draw in predators towards the sea creature that’s trying to eat them. Plus, the bright flashes of light actually disorientate and surprises their predator.

These bioluminescent planktons can produce light using a self-produced chemical called luciferin. With this chemical, they are able to produce a “cold light”, which simply means that the light isn’t generating heat.

Naturally, you would see this phenomenon happening on the shores. That’s because planktons are just sea drifters. They get washed by the waves to the shores and back which is why most pictures of bioluminescent waters in the Maldives show the water near the shores blue.

Is it Safe to Swim in?

It’s a beauty to behold and it’s no question that most of us have that desire to swim in bioluminescent water. The good thing is, it’s absolutely safe to swim through glowing planktons.

While Wikipedia might tell you that dinoflagellates (a.k.a. planktons) are toxic and dangerous, this is basically saying that all pretty plants are harmful and poisonous.

There are species of planktons that will bring irritation to your skin but the certain number of species that cause the sea to have luminescent lights are 100% harmless.

Swimming through glowing planktons is an experience like no other. They glow brighter the more the sea is disturbed so each swimming stroke looks like you’re leaving fireworks behind you.

If you’re worried that you swimming around will “hurt” them, remember that these are planktons are microscopic algae and don’t really have the concept of pain.

How to Spot Bioluminescent Plankton?

Here’s the thing, if you’re coming to the Maldives thinking that the seas normally turn blue at night, then this might disappoint you.

Much like with other natural phenomena, it’s a challenge to be in the right place at the right time to witness the incredible beauty of glowing seas.

There are a lot of factors that you have to consider if you want to witness the bioluminescent phenomenon.

To top it all off, blooms of bioluminescent planktons are incredibly difficult to predict.

They mostly happen far out in the ocean when you won’t see it and it just depends on the tidal currents to wash the planktons to the shore.

Here are some of the things to keep in mind when looking for bioluminescent blooms:

1. Do your research

The presence of bioluminescent planktons makes this phenomenon possible in the first place, so search up the locations where bioluminescence has been seen before. The more recent it is, the better.

In the Maldives, Vaadhoo Island is one of the many locations where you could spot this phenomenon. Locals refer to this place as the Sea of Stars because blooms of bioluminescent planktons occur here frequently.

It doesn’t really have to be a beach to see this luminescent glow. It could be in small bays, harbors, and coves where plankton is abundant.

It’s nice to know that bioluminescent sightings can occur more than once in one spot.

If planktons are thriving in that area and the tides are constantly pushing towards the shore, then displays are stronger and can happen almost every night until the planktons are pushed over in another area.

So try to look up for places where sightings occur often and repeatedly.

2. Visit during the warmer months

Ever wonder why this phenomenon only happens in tropical countries? That’s because planktons thrive in a warm climate and warm waters. Just like in the Maldives where it’s mostly sunny year-round.

That said, bioluminescence sightings are most successful during the warmer months. It’s typically between April and November.

3. Time your visit

Planktons don’t just illuminate randomly. They have their own circadian rhythm which means that they only glow during a specific time and it can be set at any time of the day.

However, we can only see them if they glow at night and there’s little to no light pollution around.

It’s possible to spot plankton blooms during the day. If their presence is abundant in that area, you’ll see clumps of red algae near the shoreline and it may be worth revisiting that spot again at night.

Although, this indicator is generally just for larger displays. If you can’t see a bunch of red algae during the day, that doesn’t mean that bioluminescent planktons aren’t present.

4. Turn off all kinds of artificial lights

At night, it’s helpful to turn off any source of artificial light so you could see any sort of glow in the waters. Unlike in the pictures, not all bioluminescent displays are crazily bright that it will light up the whole shore.

It needs to be close to pitch black so you can see them clearly. If you’re shining a light on the water, you won’t see the plankton glow at all. Let the natural light of the moon guide you when looking around.

5. Create a disturbance in the water

Bioluminescent planktons may be already present in the water, but they won’t glow when the sea is calm and it’s just gently lapping that shore. Planktons only light up when there’s a significant amount of movement in the water or they are disturbed by something.

If the seas are rough enough, the waves will ripple in blue light. If not, you might want to throw a couple of pebbles to check if something with light up.

Usually, planktons that are left on the shoreline will light up beneath your feet. It’s truly a magical experience. Just imagine your surroundings lighting up once you touched them!

Where Can I See Bioluminescent Planktons?

The Maldives is not the only place to witness this amazing phenomenon. So if this Caribbean island is out of your way or your budget isn’t quite ready for it yet, then you can check out some of these places where you could witness the magical glow of the sea.

1. San Diego, California

There have been multiple bioluminescent light sightings along the San Diego County coastlines.

Sea plankton blooms are particularly more active around Sunset Cliffs, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, San Elijo State Beach campgrounds, Ocean Beach, and Scripps Pier area of La Jolla.

2. Jamaica

Glistening Waters in Falmouth, Jamaica is perhaps one of the country’s best-kept secrets. This glowing lagoon is home to millions of bioluminescent planktons.

While you might think that there’s no luminescent activity in this lagoon at night, once you take your feet in for a dip, you’ll immediately see the water around you glow.

In fact, this lagoon is probably the best place to visit if you want to swim in a glowing lagoon.

It’s absolutely breathtaking and it’s amazing to see a trail of blue light illuminate around you. This is the closest experience you’ll get from swimming in a starry sky itself.

3. Australia

Australia is home to many warm beaches and other bodies of water so it’s not surprising to know that you could witness a bioluminescent beach phenomenon in this country.

There are basically beaches, bays, and bodies of water that you can go to in Australia to experience bioluminescence.

The most famous spots are Jervis Bay in New South Wales, Port Lincoln in South Australia, and Preservation Bay in New South Wales.