Underwater fireworks – how sea creatures become living lights

Fortunately, as our scientific equipment advances, we are given the opportunity to explore regions that were once impossible to reach. With this said, however, relatively recent discoveries in even shallow waters reinforce the fact that we still have an entire world to uncover.

One of the most amazing aspects of a wide variety of marine life is their ability to create an array of beautiful and mesmerising fireworks in some of Earth’s most inhospitable deep seas. But first, we’ll look at incredible bioflorescent life found within shallower waters.


Marine bioflorescence occurs when a marine organism has the ability to absorb light (sunlight mostly) and then emit light at a lower wavelength (a different colour). Water filters out long wavelengths of light (reds, oranges, yellows, etc.), but allows blues and violets to penetrate further. To see the explosion of colours caused by bioflorescent sea life, scientists have to view the water through a yellow filter – which is why we can’t see it with the naked eye. Fish with a yellow filter built into their eyes live in an ocean world markedly different to what was previously thought.


Just as awe-inspiring as bioflorescence is the phenomenon of bioluminescence, which is found in deep sea life. Bioluminescence doesn’t rely on absorbing light, and is instead produced as a by-product of a chemical reaction (i.e. light is the excess energy released by the reaction).

Bioluminescence is highly adaptive, and serves many purposes, including:

  • Attracting mates;
  • Communicating information within a species;
  • Alerting other life to the presence of a predator;
  • Distracting/confusing predators;
  • Alerting higher predators that a fish they hunt is nearby (thereby protecting themselves);
  • Camouflage (i.e. fish change colour to mimic the colour and intensity of light in the environment, making themselves invisible);
  • Using the light as a lure to draw in edible fish.

There is no doubt about the beauty of our incredible oceans, and bioflorescence and bioluminescence are but two examples of this. Surely these resources are worth protecting against the destructive powers of rampant pollution.

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