The Surreal Bioluminescent Beaches of the Maldives Islands

By: Ben Chaney

By: Ben Chaney

It’s almost like a dream. You’re walking along a quiet, peaceful sandy beach on a tropical island, and you can see millions of stars scattered across the water. As it hits the shore the water seems to glow in the moonlight. You touch your toes to it and to your surprise, the water really is glowing! It’s not glowing from the moonlight, nor is it a trick of the mind. The glow is actually alive!


Tiny, bioluminescent sea creatures can be found all over the world, but one of the best places to view them is in the Maldives. The islands of Maldives is considered one of the most dispersed countries in the world. It comprises some 1190 coral islands, grouped in a double chain of 26 atolls covering an area of over 90,000 square kilometres.

James Morin, a biology professor at Cornell University says that the microorganisms creating the glow in the Maldives are in fact “ostracod crustaceans”, even though most people assume them to be the far more common sea creatures called bioluminescent phytoplankton.

Scientists have long disputed the reason for their glow. Some believe it can be to attract one another for the purpose of mating while others argue that the glow is meant to ward off predators. When it comes to sea life, sea creatures use light for both purposes, so it’s hard to say who is right in this instance.article-2544669-1AE7AE2400000578-708_634x845

One Marine Biologist, Edith Widder calls it a “bioluminescent burglar alarm”. She believes the bright glow may be used to attract larger predators so they will go after the smaller fish that eat them.

Although they greatly resemble phytoplankton, they actually have a major difference between them. As they collide with the beach, the surf, your kayak or even your hands, phytoplankton give off a bright blue light which makes the water appear to glow. However, the light they emit only lasts for a brief moment.

These amazing ostracod crustaceans in the Maldives can actually glow for a minute or even longer, producing some truly incredible displays of light.

Regardless of the cause or the reason for their glow, it’s probably one of the most beautiful things you could ever see! If you’re planning a trip to the Maldives, the best season for spotting them is mid-summer through to winter, although they can appear at any time.

If you can’t make it all the way to the Maldives, you can at least see the next best thing, some bioluminescent phytoplankton! Beachgoers in Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, Puerto Rico, Jamaica often report seeing them. Some even report seeing them in American beaches like San Diego too!

We hope you will check out this incredible video someone filmed while on vacation in the Maldives. It’s definitely made us want to put a visit to the islands on our bucket list!


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