Rare bioluminescence blooms ‘like fireworks’ in Moreton Bay near Brisbane

Olivia Berry and her friend Hayley Cox were rowing at sunset off Scarborough in Moreton Bay in south-east Queensland when they noticed an unusual “neon blue” ripple in the water.

“We were coming back as dusk fell,” Berry said.

“We noticed that the lights started to glow and got brighter and brighter as the sun went down.

“It was really bright, almost like a bright neon blue, and it rippled with the water.”

The 24-year-old has lived in the area for more than 18 years, but has never seen the phenomenon in the Moreton Bay region before.

“It’s pretty weird from what I understand,” Ms. Berry said.

“I think a combination of the right wind and tide and also the conditions on the water.”

Olivia Berry paddles through bioluminescence on Queens Beach in Moreton Bay, across from Brisbane.
Olivia Berry paddles through bioluminescence on Queens Beach in Moreton Bay, across from Brisbane.(Supplied: Hayley Cox)

Marine ecologist Kylie Pitt said the iridescent blue phenomenon was called bioluminescence, caused by the marine species zooplankton. Sparkling Noctiluca.

“When [the plankton’s] food is really plentiful, that means it can really grow and reproduce, and it can become plentiful itself,” he said.

“When it forms these dense abundances, it can form these bioluminescent displays.”

He said that when disturbed, it would cause a “chemical reaction” and emit light.

Professor Pitt said that the blooms tended to be short-lived, lasting only a few days.

Resident Denise Cooper’s dogs created large splashes of fluorescent blue water while playing on Queens Beach North in Redcliffe Wednesday night.

Mrs. Cooper was taking her dogs for their usual walk when she came across the bioluminescence.

Dog runs into bioluminescent waters at Moreton Bay in Queens Beach.
Mrs. Cooper’s dog played in the bioluminescence in Queens Beach.(Supplied: Denise Cooper)

Phenomenon now common further south as climate changes

Fisherman Shane Roberts has been on the water in the area for more than 40 years and said the phenomenon occurs at least once a year in Moreton Bay.

“We don’t see it very close to shore in the bay,” he said.

“In the bay, it’s a little further from land, so unless you’re in a boat, you don’t really see it as much from land.”

He said the “shine of the sea” lit up the back of his boat “like a great flame” on his latest adventure while in the eastern part of the bay on Wednesday night.

“It’s magical,” Roberts said.

Neon blue bioluminescence behind a ship in the waters of Moreton Bay, near Brisbane.
Robert said the bioluminescence lit up the back of his boat on Wednesday night.(Supplied: Shane Roberts)

He said other fishermen reported sightings in April, but said it “wasn’t as thick and bright and shiny” as it was this week.

Professor Pitt said it was a well-known phenomenon, but only occasionally seen in large blooms around the Moreton Bay region.

He said that bioluminescence was very common in the coastal waters of New South Wales and had only recently become common in Tasmania.

Professor Pitt said there was growing concern that the blooms were happening more regularly.

“Historically, they haven’t been found this far south, but now they occur there very frequently,” he said.


But Professor Pitt said seeing flowers wasn’t necessarily a direct indication of a problem, as there could be multiple reasons for high nutrient levels in the water.

“One is a completely natural phenomenon, which is an upwelling of deep water from the shoreline,” he said.

“The other way to get more nutrients is through human influence.

Is it safe to swim?

Professor Pitt said that bioluminescence was safe for humans.

“I’ve swum around flowers before, and it’s so much fun,” he said.

Aware , updated

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