CHENNAI SEA WONDER!!! (Post No.6905)

The rare sea sparkle, believed to be caused by a high concentration of a micro-plankton called ‘Noctiluca scintillans’ seen at Elliots Beach in Besant Nagar on Sunday.

WRITTEN by London Swaminathan

 Date: 20 AUGUST 2019  

British Summer Time uploaded in London – 12-29

Post No. 6905

 Pictures are taken from various sources.  ((posted by AND

When we lived in Madurai , we used to go Rameswaram occasionally. During a trip, we see glowing planktons in sea coast very near Kanchi Shankara Mutt where my father (V Santanam) was giving a talk at the invitation of Sri Viswanathan of the Mutt.

We, brothers, were playing on the sea shore after sunset. We saw some glowing minute creatures and took them in small cups and bottles and brought them to Devasthana choultry where they booked rooms for our stay. But it stopped glowing. Great disappointment!

From the day, I started studying botany in Madura College in 1968, planktons, the uni-cellular organisms that feed the largest creatures on earth, the blue whale, gave me great excitement.

When Kalidasa described ‘Jyotirlatha’, the light emitting tree, inside deep forest I was wonder struck. Because, according biologists, only small fish, frogs, fungi, planktons etc are luminescent or phosphorescent, not big trees.

But when I watched David Attenborough’s

Nature series on BBC, suddenly an idea flashed to me. Kalidasa was right in describing such a glowing tree inside the deep forest. David showed us the glowing caves of New Zealand on TV. Millions of glow worms and fireflies occupy the caves and emit lights like our festival illumination, on and off. So I came to know that glow worms or fire flies occupy certain kind of trees in large numbers. And they emit light. Then I wrote a research article in this blog about ‘my discovery’.

I saw another interesting news item in the Deccan Chronicle this morning (20-8-2019 )about the glowing planktons near Chennai Elliot’s beach. This is of great interest to nature lovers. Please see the news item below:-


Chennai: Beach goers were in for a pleasant surprise as they witnessed rare sea sparkle at Elliots Beach in Besant Nagar on Sunday night. Many rushed to the beach to catch a glimpse of the bluish waves hitting the shore.

The colourful looking waves were also noticed in several parts of ECR coastline including Kovalam and Injambakkam beach. Photos and videos of the sparking waves hitting the shore went viral in the social media.

As a spectacle this was quite different from the daily night fireworks at temple festivals in the month of Aadi that just got over. This was a show of colour in the water and as the news spread, more and more people turned up to see the ‘Blue Sea’ lighting up the scene as it kept coming in waves to the shore.

Marine experts were the ones to turn to solve the mystery of this spectacle. They were quick to point out that the magical glow may have been caused by a high concentration of a micro-plankton called ‘Noctiluca scintillans’ in the sea.

The blue glow, is known as ‘bioluminescence’ and caused by Noctiluca Scintillans, which converts their chemical energy into light energy when washed ashore or disturbed. This is not good for marine ecology but the spectators were unaware as they came out in droves to see the sparkling sea.

These blooms could also be linked to massive fish kills following release of ammonia.

The organisms glow a bright blue when disturbed at night. They bloom in areas when there is oxygen deficiency, and high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. This could be bad news for the larger marine food web. The phenomenon could be an indicator of pollution in the sea, the experts said.

(Wikipedia–Plankton are the diverse collection of organisms that live in large bodies of water and are unable to swim against a current. The individual organisms constituting plankton are called plankters. They provide a crucial source of food to many small and large aquatic organisms, such as bivalves, fish and whales.)