By Audrey Wilson

Whether you see it as fairy dust in the water or stars in the head, ocean bioluminescence is a fascinating phenomenon.
 
I had my most recent exposure to the remarkable phenomenon called bioluminescence during our beautiful West Coast weather last autumn. It was a crisp, clear night and we were on a mooring buoy at Newcastle Island Marine Park in Nanaimo, when my husband spoke to my love of the night sky and offered to take me for a dinghy ride to see the stars.

We wove our way through the channel between Newcastle and Protection islands to get away from the city and island lights. We made the dinghy comfortable with our portable captain’s chairs, and our small electric motor allowed us a noiseless passage at a relaxed pace. Before lying back and settling in to star gaze, I glanced forward past the bow into the black water and was amazed by another spectacular flashing display of light. This starry show was not in the sky but in the water!

Earlier that day I had noticed a very heavy coating of plankton on the surface of the water but I thought no further about it. At night, the ramifications of that heavy layer were like thousands of tiny, squirming stars in a sea of black! As the dinghy pushed through the water, it produced an explosion of dancing, squiggling light. Doing gentle “donuts,” we created a thin stream of fairy dust that swirled around us, interspersed with remarkably large pieces of bioluminescence the size of snowflakes.

I was aware of the phenomenon of bioluminescence through watching documentaries on television and through an excellent display at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. However, I had never really taken the time to look at it closely. My glimpse last fall made me curious to understand it more fully.

Upon our return home, I began to research bioluminescence. I spoke with Dr. Dennis Thoney, director of animal operations at the Vancouver Aquarium, and he described bioluminescence briefly as “…light produced by animals by an exothermic chemical reaction that produces energy released as light.” He explained that the group of chemicals that make plankton glow are broadly termed luciferins, and the light is produced by a series of oxidation reactions set off by a catalyst called luciferase. Bioluminescence is a form of “cold light” or luminescence.

Interestingly, fish have bioluminescence which occurs in specific spots on their bodies in relation to their specific function. Fish light up in order to disappear, attract a species-specific mate, or even to defend against a predator, producing a short flash to attract another predator to the creature threatening it. In tropical waters, fish may have a little external ray or “fishing pole” that they can use as a lure for prey.


Brilliant Plankton

A vast range of plankton – both zooplankton and single-celled animal plankton – is known to be bioluminescent and occur in all the world’s oceans. The most common of these are dinoflagellates, tiny unicellular marine plankton. In contrast to fish, their bioluminescence glow fuses fully through the animal; it is usually used to escape but only lasts for a few seconds because it takes a lot of energy to produce the light.

According to Dr. Thoney, the western coasts of the world’s continents are richer in bioluminescent plankton due to greater upwelling. Winds blow from the west across the oceans, pushing surface water away so that more water rises up from beneath the surface to replace it. Sub-surface water is typically colder and richer in nutrients. These nutrients fertilize the surface waters, meaning that they often have high biological productivity. The heaviest concentration of surface life will be in the spring and late summer. Indeed, a “red tide” or plankton bloom such as I saw is rich in dinoflagellates, causing a spectacular nighttime show of bioluminescence.

This phenomenon never fails to delight the uninitiated, no matter how unconventional your first viewing is. My first glimpse of this wonder was one night while using the head! I had left the light off so as not to bother my sleeping husband, used the facilities and then, while flushing, saw an explosion of “sparklies” swirling in the bowl! My peals of giggles woke Calvin and I shared my discovery with him.

If you have never experienced bioluminescence, you may get your first glimpse of “sparklies in the head.” You could try a more conventional method and take a dinghy ride by night. You might even try a night swim or dive in search of more opportunities to see a diverse selection of animals that “light up.” However you do it, remember to stir or disturb those dinoflagellates, then sit back and watch the show!


Audrey Wilson’s first boating experience was living aboard as a child with her parents in the late’60s. She and husband Calvin bought their US Yachts 27 sailboat in 2011 and are discovering, by trial and error, the joys of sailing around Nanaimo and the Gulf Islands.

PHOTO CAPTIONS
Photo 1 - Light shows of bioluminescence in coastal waters are produced by plankton known as dinoflagellates.
Photo 2 & 3 - West Coast dinoflagellates include Ceratium furca (2) andNoctiluca scintillans or “sea sparkle”.

Boat Reviews

  • Prev
New at the end of 2019, the 58 Salon Express design features large windows to flood the living ...
No wonder this is one of Regal’s best-selling boats; the Regal 33 Express offers amazing ...
The newest member of Beneteau’s Gran Turismo line is the GT 36 and this yacht brings the style and ...
With a philosophy of quality and 'doing things right Ranger Tugs launches the all new R-25 at the ...
The new Beneteau Swift Trawler 41 renews the spirit of the practical seaworthy cruiser. The ...
The Canadian Yachting test crew last week had the opportunity to run the Bavaria S36 HT at St ...

CY Virtual Video Boat Tours

Virtual Boat ToursWe all love boats and nothing can break us up! So, what better way to spend our time than looking at interesting boats and going aboard in a virtual ride or tour. We have asked our friends at various dealers and manufacturers to help us assemble a one-stop online resource to experience some of the most interesting boats on the market today. Where the CY Team has done a review, we connect you to that expert viewpoint. Our Virtual Show will continue to grow so visit frequently and check it out. If you can’t go boating, you can almost experience the thrill via your screen. Not quite the same, but we hope you enjoy our fine tour collection.

 

Read more about the CY Virtual Boat Tours....................

 

Beneteau Oceanis 30.1As boat builders clamber to create ever-bigger platforms for ever-more generous budgets, the entry-level cruiser has become an elusive animal. Sure, if you want to daysail, there are plenty of small open boats from which to choose, but if you want a freshly built pocket cruiser, you’re in for a long search. Enter French builder Groupe Beneteau, which identified this gap in the market and set about creating the Oceanis 30.1, an adorable little cruiser that resembles her larger siblings in all but length and price. With all she offers, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call her a mini yacht.

Read More about the Beneteau Oceanis 30.1..................

Destinations

  • Prev
On May 19, the New York State Canal Corporation today announced an updated opening schedule for the ...
If you have four hours to enjoy a fine tour of one of Canada’s most interesting waterways (let’s ...
Boom & Batten Restaurant is suspended over the water adjacent to the Songhees Walkway and ...
Provincial Boat Havens are those special places to drop anchor in British Columbia’s West Coast and ...
NW Explorations, a Bellingham, Washington-based yacht charter, brokerage, and marine services ...

DolphinsBy the Canadian Yachting Editors


Canadians are blessed in many ways and especially when it comes to boating. We enjoy some the world’s most beautiful cruising waters and many places are as sheltered as they are scenic.

British Columbia and the Pacific North West plainly have the most breath-taking scenery with the combination of the majestic ocean views and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. It’s like no place on earth when you have a Killer Whale breach beside your little fishing boat.

Read more about Canadian Cruising...........

 

Cobourg Yacht Club - 2015 Sailing instructorsKatherine Stone

Like many other harbours on Lake Ontario, Cobourg has seen its fair share of changes. Screams used to be heard from kids piled into a toboggan on wheels that went hurtling down a wooden slide into the harbour. Above it all was the bustling din from the waterfront of ship’s whistles, train engines, foghorns and thundering coal cars. It is now a rather serene place for the locals and visitors to enjoy various watercraft. Fortunately, the beautiful beach that lines the waterfront is still a star attraction for the town.

Located 95 kilometres east of Toronto and 62 kilometres east of Oshawa on the north edge of Lake Ontario, United Empire Loyalists first starting arriving in the area as early as the 1780s. The first settlement in 1798 was called Buckville, later renamed Amherst, then called Hamilton (after the township) and also nicknamed Hardscrabble. It wasn’t until 1819 that they finally settled on the name of Cobourg, which was incorporated as a town in 1837. In the late 1820s large schooners with passengers and cargo had to anchor well off shore, as there was only a landing wharf. A group of Toronto businessmen formed the Cobourg Harbour Company which built the wooden Eastern Pier from tolls charged for the use of the harbour.

Read more: Cobourg Yacht Club...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
Many boats are now on the water after a COVID-imposed hiatus – and with a shortened ‘prep’ period, ...
Wrapping your hull with marine vinyl wrap instead using traditional marine paint seems like a new ...
Boating safety is always—always—a critical consideration whenever you push off the dock, but with ...
Building on our last two editions (Sealants, and Fibreglass, respectively), Gelcoat is the next ...
After a successful R2Ak and regatta season in 2019, I felt that Pitoraq was due for a major ...
Pause for a moment and ponder this question. How much is your life and your safety at sea worth? ...
Last edition we talked about sealants to perform tasks like bedding and sealing. Other tasks like ...
Over the winter, a many-thousand pound fiberglass, wood or metal shell is held in position by only ...
Since the late 19th century, a debate has raged on the relative merits of diesel fuel over ...
This bag does more than hold your anchor and rode in one tidy little pile. After you’ve anchored ...

Andrew AlbertiIn the past two issues we have been doing an overview of the right-of-way rules. In the first, we did a review of Section A of Part 2, in the second we did a review of the definitions. This issue, we will look at Section B of Part 2, General Limitations, which is essentially limitations applying to boats that have right of way according to Section A.

GENERAL LIMITATIONS

14 AVOIDING CONTACT

A boat shall avoid contact with another boat if reasonably possible. However, a right-of-way boat or one entitled to room or mark-room

Read more about the right-of-way rules.......................

 

  

Marine Products

  • Prev
Wet decking can compromise passenger safety on boats, particularly when boarding or disembarking. ...
Anyone who has repeatedly used a rag to clean gelcoat, paint and delicate surfaces has seen the ...
The new Mercury Racing 300hp Five‑Blade CNC Cleaver propellers are designed expressly to maximize ...
Beneteau may have outdone itself with introduction of its new Gran Turismo 36, manufactured in ...
Yanmar Power Technology has announced the development of a hydrogen fuel cell system for maritime ...
Kevin Monahan is a retired Canadian Coast Guard officer with more than 20 years of experience ...
The new 2020 PORTS Georgian Bay, North Channel & Lake Huron Guide is available for purchase at ...
Professional boatbuilders don't want to have to redo a job any more than a DIYer. Many choose Life ...
Since its introduction last year, the JBL by Harman Marine BassPro 10" Powered Subwoofer (JBLMBP10) ...
After decades of perusing charts and guidebooks as part of planning a cruise, it was a totally ...