Of all the beautiful things in the world, I saw one of the more amazing tonight. I was leading my students (a group of 10 eighth graders) on an evening night hike. Having exhausted our planned activities for the forest, we ventured to the beach to watch some stars, enjoy the soothing sounds, and relax in the sand.
Then, we ventured into the wet sand exposed as waves rolled back from the shore. With care, due to the advancing tide, we played in the sand. And, there, we discovered something most amazing:
Okay, let's break the Latin down. Bio: living. Luminescent: lights up. Bioluminescent is specifically used to talk about organisms that make their own internal light. Dinos: whirling, flagellum: small whip. This beautiful, glowing light is made by a small, single-celled organism with two whip-like tails (flagella). Relatives of what we saw produce red tide, but this was just sheer beauty. As we dragged our fingers through the sand, the plankton glowed momentarily. In some areas, the concentration of dinoflagellates was so high that my fingers appeared to glow in the sand.
The beauty is simply indescribable. I am now motivated to swim amongst the bioluminescent plankton. What I saw was not nearly so bright, yet it was still amazing. For now, I am happy playing in the sand on my little piece of the coast of Maine.
PS Do yourself a favor and check out this google search for pictures of bioluminescent dinoflagellates. So beautiful!