The bioluminescent waves are caused by something called a "phytoplankton bloom."

By Talia Avakian
February 13, 2018

Glowing, bioluminescent waves have been appearing at California’s Big Sur, treating those who visit the area to a fascinating natural spectacle.

Monterey-based photographer George Krieger recently captured breathtaking images of the waves, which have been lighting up the area since early Feb.

“A bloom of phytoplankton was lighting up the night under the Bixby Creek Bridge this evening,” Krieger, who first spotted the spectacle on Feb. 5, wrote on Facebook.

Krieger was in the area to take pictures at around 9 p.m. when he spotted the natural phenomenon, realizing as he looked closer just what he was seeing.

George Krieger
George Krieger

“I looked down and the waves were a lot brighter than normal, like someone was shining blue headlights on the waves,” Krieger told Travel + Leisure.

“But when you look at it longer, your eyes start to get used to the darkness and it looks just as though someone has put blue lights underneath the water that reveal themselves every time a wave goes over,” he added.

George Krieger

Steve Haddock, a bioluminescence specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, explained to KSBW that the glowing waves are the result of concentrations of dinoflagellates in the water. Members of the phytoplankton genus, dinoflagellates are tiny organisms that emit light when perceiving predators.

"It is almost certainly a dinoflagellate bloom. We are also seeing relative high bioluminescence with our instruments here in Monterey Bay," he told KSBW.

Haddock added that there have been a spike in reports of the glowing waves along California's coast since January, pointing to a combination of high nutrient rates the organisms were receiving and calm weather conditions as factors.

George Krieger
George Krieger

"The typical pattern leading to a bloom of dinoflagellates is an influx of nutrients (for example wind turning over the water column or rain providing runoff) followed by a calm period which allows the water to stratify (form layers),” Haddock explained.

“In these layers, the dinoflagellates can accumulate into high concentrations before they get mixed around by subsequent windy conditions," he said.

George Krieger

Krieger, who said the bioluminescence could still be seen in the southern portion of Big Sur as late as Sunday evening, went back to the area several nights after his first spotting of the bioluminescent waves to take in the scenery.

“Every corner of Big Sur is another environment, and another world,” he told T+L. “There are so many aspects of beauty here, visually, that for a photographer, it’s one of the most productive places you can go to shoot.”