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Phosphorescence

17 Feb Chief's Column, GIBP News | Comments Off on Phosphorescence
Phosphorescence
 

The lack of moon and heavy fog made the night darker than normal. The wind was calm and the water was like glass. As the stand-up paddler’s board cut through the frigid water, it left a glowing trail of phosphorescence behind. A wave broke ahead and sent a yellow/green light pulsing into the night.

Nowhere is the natural ebb and flow more apparent than along the coast line. Just as the tide rises and falls, animal and plant life increases and decreases depending on the amount of light, food, salinity, or predators. No doubt, human interference disrupts the natural cycles when we add pollutants or overfish certain species, but it’s hard to separate out what causes what. The relationship between organisms is so varied and complex that isolating underlying causes is tough.

We’ve seen a number of species multiply above normal in recent years. One season we have heavy Sargassum Seaweed, the next you see the wingtips of cow nosed rays everywhere in shallow water. Every few seasons we’re visited with a pesky red tide that causes inflamed mucus membranes and fish kill. The most recent bloom is something fairly benign but definitely one of the most beautiful phenomena we come across on the Gulf Coast.

This particular bloom is a type of algae and it involves tiny glow in the dark specs to shine when movement/oxygen affect them. There’s usually a bit of phosphorescence in the gulf but not enough to see. But this week there were so many that it lit up the night. It was mesmerizing.

The ocean has many forms of life that generate their own light. Animals that live deep in the ocean below the level reached by surface light often have weird glowing appendages to light their way or scare off predators. Others have huge eyes sensitive to the slightest glow. One of the coolest animals is found right here in the gulf and is really plentiful. The Ctenophore, commonly called the “Comb Jelly”, doesn’t sting and is pretty small. It feels like you touched a piece of gelatin floating in the water. Sometimes they are so thick that it’s like swimming though goo. At night, when prodded they produce about the same amount of light as a firefly.

Life struggles to find a balance. We know this in ourselves as we feel the natural mood swings we go through that are exacerbated by lack of sleep, improper diet, or a disruption in our routine. We also see it in the natural world in all types of forms. Normal amounts of ebb and flow ads spice to our existence. We wouldn’t appreciate the sun as much without the rain or the warmth without the cold. By the same token we wouldn’t value the days we feel like all is right with ourselves and the world if we didn’t have days that weren’t so good.

The trick within ourselves and in the natural world is to keep these fluctuations within a reasonable range.