Time-lapse photographer captures South Africa’s twinkling bioluminescence

Cape Town-based travel and landscape photographer Eric Nathan recently happened upon an absolutely mesmerising sight; twinkling blue lights, or ‘bioluminescence’, in the water lapping against his city’s shore.

As he explains to Lonely Planet, this was Eric’s first time witnessing the phenomenon. “I had never before in my life seen bioluminescent phytoplankton, which is actually a microscopic algae bloom known as noctiluca scintillans,”  he begins. “It was quite by chance that one night I noticed the phenomenon in the waves in False Bay, close to where I live in Cape Town. Unfortunately there was too much artificial city light for me to photograph it in that area, so two evenings later I ventured over to the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve on the other side of the bay. This area has a supremely scenic stretch of coastline with far less light pollution, and I spent two entire nights there photographing and time-lapsing.”

Bioluminescent plankton
Eric photographed twinking bioluminescence in Cape Town. Photo by: Eric Nathan Photography

“Such bioluminescence is unpredictable,” Eric continues, “but in the Cape region, it tends to happen in the first four months of the year. It’s easy to overlook because it only occurs when the water is disturbed (like when waves break), and it’s only clearly visible if the surrounding area is dark. Even the illumination of the moon will seriously reduce the visibility of the effect, which manifests as a mesmerising, electrical-like flickering which sparkles with a light blue hue wherever the water is agitated. For this reason, it is also known as ‘sea sparkle’”.

Bioluminescence in Cape Town
The phenomenon is also known as ‘sea sparkle’. Photo by: Eric Nathan Photography

As Eric notes, despite its incredible beauty, many locals aren’t aware of Cape Town’s bioluminescence. “Although I’ve since learned that numerous people have observed this in the local region before, it certainly cannot be classified as an event which locals regularly admire. As I mentioned, I’d never before seen it anywhere, and I didn’t even know it existed here! But now that my images are getting so much exposure, I’m sure people will be looking out for it in future.”

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Time-lapse photographer captures South Africa’s twinkling bioluminescence
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