Blue, neon waves lighting up the night at South Bay beaches

Blue, neon waves lighting up the night at South Bay beaches

Nature has been creating a light show at South Bay beaches, with bioluminescence this week making waves glow an electric blue hue. The phenomenon, which is hard to predict and elusive, has shown up at El Porto in Manhattan Beach and in Marina del Rey.

Torrance photographer Patrick Coyne, who has spent countless hours chasing neon waves since they first appeared April 2020 from Malibu to San Clemente, documented the glowing surf Monday, Nov. 8 at El Porto and the following evening, Nov. 9, off Marina del Rey.

“This one is it… Yoo-wooow, that was insanely bright, that’s so bright!” he can be heard screaming in a video recorded off the beach at El Porto. “What is happening — another wave behind it! Oh my god! That is so bright.” Coyne, who makes the trek regularly to Orange County to document the glowing waves, said it never gets old.

“It’s way too much fun, part of it is searching for it, you never know what you’re going to find,” he said. “Most of the trips aren’t successful. But the ones that are make it all worth it. It’s pretty addicting.”

The trek to Marina del Rey proved to be one of the most successful outings, producing the brightest waves he’s seen all year.

“It was really, really bright. It was pretty consistent and almost every wave was crashing blue,” he said. “We were able to get some pretty good footage.”

Unlike other areas where he has to wait patiently on the cold, dark beach for hours, the bioluminescence started showing as early as 7:30 p.m. at Marina del Rey.

The phenom is caused by a phytoplankton bloom that has a rusty red hue during the day, one way to predict if waves might show blue, but they can be elusive and be a no-show if winds and tides don’t cooperate.

In 2020, as the world was put in coronavirus lockdowns, Coyne and two other photographers, Mark Girardeau and Royce Hutain, captured images and video of bioluminescence happening off Newport Beach’s coast that went viral.

Through that strong bioluminescent phytoplankton bloom, which lasted nearly two months, Coyne was able to capture amazing moments, everything from neon blue dolphins frolicking alongside the Newport Coastal Adventure boat, to countless videos showing his toes kicking up sand that lit up like it had been zapped with magic.

He swam in it, did cannonballs in it, put it in bottles and shook it around to watch it light up like a science experiment. Coyne even traveled to Florida to document the East Coast’s version of bioluminescence.

The organism that produces coastal bioluminescence here, including red tides, is the dinoflagellate Lingulodinium polyedra, which has been common this year, not unexpected after the spectacular red tide last year, Michael Latz, an expert at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, wrote in a past email.

It’s unknown if it will stick around a while off the South Bay or be gone — but Coyne will likely be out it checking, just in case.

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