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One of my absolute favorite scenes in the 2012 movie Life of Pi is when a huge glittering whale jumps out of a sparkling night sea behind Pi’s raft, everything around them glowing from amazing bioluminescence. Another favorite is the illuminated neon forest in the movie Avatar.
Bioluminescence is most common in the tropics. Walking along a tropical beach at night or sea kayaking after dark, especially the closer you get to the equator, you often can see sparkling lights in the water. It seems as if the ocean is a liquid sky of blue stars.
“Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism as the result of a chemical reaction during which chemical energy is converted to light energy,” according to Science Daily.
This phenomenon occurs in many marine animal species – bacteria, plankton, fish, jellyfish, squid and crustaceans. It also exists in some fungi, microorganisms and terrestrial invertebrates – think of fireflies and glow worms. Marine life depends on their bioluminescence for finding food, attracting mates and evading predators, according to Science Journal. Sometimes thousands of square miles of ocean shine with the light of bioluminescent bacteria or plankton. For instance, Puerto Rico is famous for its three bioluminescent bays.
In Costa Rica, bioluminescence is a frequent occurrence in the Golfo Dulce. This southern Pacific region of Costa Rica by the Osa Peninsula is full of amazing biodiversity. Golfo Dulce is a critical habitat for migrating Pacific humpback whales, dolphins and sea turtles.
A good place to see bioluminescence in Golfo Dulce is at Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge. On a non-rainy night when the sky is really dark with no moon, or enough clouds to hide any moon, walk down to Nicuesa Lodge’s boat dock to see if you can observe any bioluminescence in the sea. The water glows more when the microorganisms in it are agitated, so if it is a bioluminescent night, ask the guides to take you out in the kayaks for a paddle close to shore. When you sea kayak in the illuminated water, every paddle stroke is like fireworks. Why the lights appear blue and green is because those are the light wavelengths that can transmit most easily through seawater, reports Science Daily. Sometimes you might even see dolphins eerily glowing in the bioluminescent water.
Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge recently received the Ecological Blue Flag Award for the fifth time for having one of Costa Rica’s cleanest beaches. Bordering the Piedras Blancas National Park, the Costa Rica rainforest lodge holds the highest Sustainable Tourism Program rating, and offers nature tours in the rainforest and ocean adventure tours around Golfo Dulce.