Red Tide Magic – Bioluminescence Captured With Video and Night Photography

The last few weeks San Diego has been experiencing a serious red tide. For those of you who have never seen a red tide or phosphorescent water, it turns the water poop-brown and makes it look very unwelcoming during the daylight hours.

After night falls, it’s a different story.

At night, the waves glow a vivid blue color. This is caused by Bioluminescent Dinoflagellates. Dinoflagellates are tiny plants which live in the sea and obtain energy from sunlight during the day. In darkness, they emit bright blue light in response to movement within the water.

I hope everyone gets a chance to see phosphorescence at least once in their lifetime. The first time I ever experienced this phenomenon was on a family trip to Jamaica where we took at trip to Bioluminescent Bay.

If you have never seen red tide at night and you ever get an opportunity to see it… DO IT! You will feel like you are on Hallucinogens. We took out the original audio in this video because we sounded like complete nerds getting all excited every time a wave came. It is THAT awesome! I promise.

A short video we took of the phosphorescence at night.

If the video is not loading on this page, you can also view it on YouTube.

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Christy Woodrow is a travel photographer and professional blogger based in San Diego. She has been traveling around the world with her partner in crime, Scott, since 2006. Join them in their quest to find off-the-beaten-path destinations by signing up for weekly emails and following her on .

  • Stunning pictures, thanks for sharing!

  • I’d love to see something like that at night. Orlando has something near the Atlantic coast I’d like to try.

  • Thanks for posting this, always wanted to see phosphorescence!

  • jenjenk

    holy cwap.  those are amazing shots!

  • Absolutely genius!! Just like the northern lights, but at sea!! Nearly as impressive?

    • Well, I have never seen the northern lights in person, but seeing this has definitely been a life highlight for me. 🙂

  • I’ve seen something similar on the Dutch coast – when we got in the water at night it glowed around us! But I didn’t get beautiful shots like these 🙂

    • Thanks Robin, we haven’t seen a red tide here in a couple of years. It’s a pretty amazing phenomenon.

  • Olivia Man

    Oh my god, these pictures are breath-taking! I love them, I am not very good at taking night pictures, what’s your secret? Good for you!

    • Hi Olivia. You absolutely must have a tripod and preferably a low ISO and long exposure. Some of these photos were taken with a minute or longer exposure.

  • idelish

    Beautiful pictures! Love the colors you’ve captured! Love that you captured it on video too!

  • So freaking awesome!!!!!

  • Abby

    Wowow these are all amazing! That first one really crosses the line into magical though.

  • That is so cool!! I love when you can see stuff you learned about in science class in real life :)… I’m a nerd, too 🙂

  • WOW!  Gorgeous photos!  I’ve never even heard of a red tide before!

  • Ooh, what a cool experience!

  • Technosyncratic

    Wow.  I don’t even know what to say.   I would love to see this in person!

  • traveltosun

    The video is awesome, we felt like we were watching Twilight Zone 🙂

  • Third picture down, the sky looks bioluminescent.  

    • Ooohhh.. it does. I had to keep the shutter open so long on some of these that the sky turned purple. 

  • Cole @

    Wish you had gone surfing in it and got photos! Wonder if it stuck to wetsuits? 

  • Sherry

    I’m never seen anything like this and I grew up in a place surrounded by water.  Love that you guys were giddy with every wave.  It sounds kinda like my experience watching fireflies swarm in the dark. So fun!

  • Wow, this is really great.  It was my understanding that it wasn’t possible to capture bioluminescence on camara or video (I read it somewhere).  Didn’t know anyting about red tides either.

    One little observation.  Bioluminescence and phosphorescence are not interchangeable terms.  When you say: “Dinoflagellates are tiny plants which live in the sea and obtain energy from sunlight during the day”, you are describing phosphorescence.  However, dinoflagellates produce light by releasing energy thru a chemical reaction (which is defined as bioluminescence or a natural form of chemiluminescence). 

    • Yes, Ruth, actually this was our understanding as well. We didn’t think that you could get it on camera, but after seeing some video on the news I knew we could do it. It probably doesn’t work, however, if you use a flash. To be honest with the bioluminescence, I admit we are no scientists, but this is what we gathered from reading information online. Thanks for sharing!

  • Great captures of the bioluminescence. We saw it for the first time in Thailand at the beginning of this year on a kayaking trip. We stayed overnight on a private island and finally saw them. It was while kayaking in a hong that with every stroke of our paddle we first witnessed it. The water lit up with each dip. Amazing!

    • Thanks, guys! Glad you got to see it too! When we were on Catalina Island we also had the kayaking experience in luminescent water. Very cool, indeed! 🙂

  • Beautiful pictures guys!

  • This is SO COOL! And watching the video of it is mesmerizing! Very cool stuff.

  • Charlotte

    Wow, beautiful photos! I never knew about phosphorescence before!

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