Lingulodinium polyedrum is a bioluminescent phytoplankton or more specifically a dinoflagellate. Bioluminescent essentially means it glows. Numerous organisms in nature do this. However, L. polyedrum is special even amongst this group of naturally glowing organisms. That is because Lingulodinium polyedrum forms red tides, more accurately known as algae blooms. These are times when organisms like L. polyedrum are particularly numerous in coastal waters. So, what happens when there is an algae bloom of bioluminescent organisms in warm coastal waters? The waves glow like college students at a rave.
Red tides are not always pleasant to look at and many people would rather not enter the water when microscopic organisms have so visibly taken over. L. polyedrum is much prettier than some red tides and possibly less frightening when it comes to entering the water. However, there may be cause for such concern when it comes to Lingulodinium polyedrum. There is some evidence that these dinoflagellates can be harmful to fish populations and possibly even people. However, a number of people continue to swim and surf despite L. polyedrum algae blooms without any known ill effects. The potential is still there, though.
Whether they are dangerous or not, these organisms certainly create a beautiful show. It is as if lights are turning on in the waves as they begin to crash. It is said that a footprint in the sand will glow when these organisms are present. Therefore, one can walk down the beach agitating them with their feet and making them glow in the sand while watching the light show they put on in the water. There really is nothing like it. It is like a trip to Pandora.
Watch the video below for some great footage of this phenomenon. Sorry for the music, if it is not pleasing to your ears, but these are the best lengthy shots of waves out of the bunch.