Surfers in Orange and San Diego Counties in California have seen a return of the annual Red Tide along their beaches.
The Red Tide is actually a bloom of bioluminescent protists, called Lingulodinium polyedrum, that are a type of marine plankton. They usually appear on the Southern California coastline in the late summer and early fall after temperature changes in sea water cause an explosion in their population. During the day, the sea water appears to be reddish-brown in color when the Red Tide is around. But at night, the tiny creatures light up when the water surface is agitated.
Any swimming or surfing is a surreal experience during the Red Tide as finger strokes through the water leave trails of the eerie blue light. Even walking on the wet sand is incredible as each foot step leaves a glowing footprint after hitting the ground! Throwing a rock in the water is equally amazing.
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Some specimens of the Lingulodinium polyedrum have been found to have toxins in them, however, the thousands of surfers and swimmers in the water everyday during Red Tide suggest that they are too diluted to have an effect on humans.
The bloom of the Red Tide usually only lasts three to six weeks so take advantage of seeing the spectacle if you are near the coast in Southern California. For best results, find a beach that is far away from city lights. This will allow for the brightest viewing of the little dinoflagellates.