Kayaking in Bioluminescence

Bioluminescence, or the ability of an organism to create light, is one of nature’s most amazing phenomena. While only a few land dwellers, like fireflies and some fungi, can make their own light, bioluminescence is very common in the deep sea. Bacteria, jellyfish, starfish, clams, worms, crustaceans, squid and fish are just some of the groups of marine animals that have bioluminescent members.  In the San Juans, phytoplankton light a path through the sea. All bioluminescent organisms use a reaction between an enzyme and a substrate to make light, but different species use different chemicals in the process. This suggests that the ability to make light evolved many times throughout the ages.

Deep-ocean environments are almost completely dark; yet light is still important in these environments. Thus, bioluminescence may provide a survival advantage in the darkness of the deep sea, helping organisms find food, assisting in reproductive processes, to communicate and providing defensive mechanisms.

The dark of night gives sea kayakers in the San Juan Islands a chance to paddle in a "sea of light."  After dark, we often launch our kayaks to observe first-hand how these light-emitting phytoplankton behave in the wild.