Lighting up the Night Sea
Have you ever heard of the fluorescent plankton that lurks out in deep waters? The kind that lights up and glitters when you move through the water? To those who haven’t it may sound like some exotic magical occurrence, and even though I had vaguely heard of it, I had never quite fathomed what it would look like. But lo and behold, on my recent trip to Thailand I got to witness it and holy moly. It was magical. It blew my mind. It made my trip.
My last night in Thailand found me chatting over Chang beers in a beach bar in Ton Sai, Krabi. A beautiful setting for a beautiful couple of days but the morning would see me hopping on a plane to Borneo… so what else was there to do than hang out and toast my trip to the stars.
However, a sweet American had rigged up a motor to a dingy and was talking of this psychedelic phenomenon of the plankton. Incredibly curious, I was incredibly curious to check it out and see what it was all about!
Bioluminescent Plankton is the technical and scientific terminology name for it. These teeny fragments of life produce light through chemical reactions taking place within their bodies.
Vibrations cause them to get ‘excited’ and the reactions in several forms of Plankton result in glowing light which is really to surprise and ward off predators. A beautiful natural sight, and to swim in it is freaking pretty.
The Plankton emits “cold light” only at night so we set off in the dingy at about 2am when the plankton would be at its best visibility. Cruising out 2 kilometres to sea in the darkness was slightly intimidating as the sea was like black glass surrounding us. But the further out we got, we could see faint green glowing in our wake of the dingy. Soon we were far out at sea with views of the deep dark silhouettes of the limestone cliffs dominating above Ton Sai’s narrow beach. The faint echoes of the beach bar reverberated out to us, but we pretty much felt like the only humans alive… and marooned out at sea.
I was last to jump in as it was pretty nerve-wracking to just jump into darkness (and how the hell was I going to be able to gracefully get back in the boat??!) but seeing what the others were experiencing made me need to get in.
The black waters surrounded me, but as soon as I moved, tiny green glitter was left in my wake. It was like liquid stars surrounding you and as you treaded water, it formed a green glowing bubble around you. Some have described it as witnessing ‘fairy dust’ or swimming in the stars, and it really was that surreal and ethereal! Sparkling water made us forget how far out we were, and the faster you moved the brighter the twinkling became. Incredible! Until an American drawled, “We’re pretty much a glowing beacon for whatever’s lurking underneath us”. Holy crap, that saw me moulding my body to the underside of the dingy with thoughts of, “If the shark comes, those glowing guys will be first to go”, before my imagination of what the deep dark sea held overcame me and I went ass over head into the dingy/safety.
After some missed heartbeats when the motor wouldn’t roar to life to get us back to shore (err, I cannot swim 2km) and seven shooting stars later, we finally cruised back lazily watching the green sparkles. Back at shore, I was hyped and knew that that was a treasured memory.
It’s pretty hard to capture well in photographs, so get on youtube and see people filming it to get an idea of what it looks like in action. But check out this incredible video documenting surfers in bioluminescent waters:
If you get the chance, jump into the unknown darkness and see what bioluminescent beauties lie within! You won’t regret it.