Swimming with stars in the Maldives
Posted on 09/10/2018

NatureMaldive Islands

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The beaches of the Maldives come alive at night

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to swim among the constellations? The Maldives is as close as you can get. Tiny plankton produce light when under stress, causing a brilliant blue and green show when you step in the wet sand or agitate the water around you at night.

What is bioluminescence?

What is bioluminescence?
© Pawel Grebenkin/123RF

A chemical called luciferin allows living organisms to produce light in many ways, but the dinoflagellates in the Maldives can create the chemical on their own. This natural phenomenon is mostly visible in warm waters: bays or lagoons that have small openings to the ocean. The plankton gather in these hospitable waters, lighting them up at night.

It's not known for certain why dinoflagellates and other bioluminescent plankton light up when disturbed. It's possible that they're warding off predators, but another theory states that the lights are meant to draw even bigger predators near when the plankton are under threat, scaring off whatever it is that's trying to eat them.

Not only are some of them pretty to look at, but plankton as a whole make up a huge component of marine food webs, and small changes in their habits or life cycle can cause enormous shifts in underwater ecosystems.

Where can it be found?

Where can it be found?
© haveseen/123RF

As previously mentioned, this specific type of plankton is attracted to warm water, which means that you're most likely to see bioluminescence in a bay or lagoon. Bioluminescent plankton can be found all over the world from San Diego to some Greek Islands, and when a "bloom" occurs, meaning that the plankton experience a huge boost in population, the resulting aquatic fireworks can span hundreds of miles and can sometimes even be seen from space. But the display along the beaches of the Maldives is at its most spectacular in person, and Vaadhoo Island is home to one of the most beautiful examples of bioluminescence in the world.

What does it look like?

What does it look like?
© Pawel Grebenkin/123RF

As the sun sinks into the horizon and the tide gently rocks the plankton into the shore and out to sea, the dazzling sight can be witnessed. Stepping in and out of the wet sand and swimming in the warm water of the Maldives causes the plankton to spark and shimmer, giving the impression that you're swimming among the stars.

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