11th Aug 2012

Bioluminescent Invasion

In the Australian summer of 2008–2009, the shores of the Gippsland Lakes in Victoria were awash with an algae known as Noctiluca scintillans. A remarkable chain of events led to this never-seen-before occurence. In 2006, Victoria suffered from alpine bushfires that ravished over a million hectares for 69 days, including the catchment for the chain of Gippsland Lakes. Torrential rainfall followed the fires, causing a once-in-a-century flood that washed ash and nitrogen-rich soil from the bushfire into the lakes, increasing salinity and leading to an outbreak of the Synechococcus algae. This only gave the water a disconcerting greenish tinge, but soon a new species arose, Noctiluca Scintillans, which began to prosper by feeding on the Synechococcus. At night it produced a brilliant form of bioluminescence, glowing whenever the water was disturbed, such as when waves washed on the shore or ripples broke the surface. Phil Hart, a specialist in astrophotography and a long-time visitor to the lake, captured the amazing phenomenon.

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