Syed Sohail at the beach in Dibba, Fujairah with bioluminescent phytoplankton. Image Credit: Supplied

Highlights

  • A specific type of bioluminescent phytoplankton called dinoflagellates lined a Fujairah beach.
  • Experts confirm that the creatures are harmless.
  • Dinoflagellate species are present in the Arabian Gulf throughout the year in high densities.

Dubai: “Are those hundreds of diamonds on the seashore?” Syed Sohail asked his family when he saw thousands of twinkling blue specks along the shore of a Fujairah beach.

Having a relaxing night out on a beach over the long day weekend, a few weeks’ ago, Sohail, his family of four and a couple of friends were surprised to see glowing blue dots appear as they dipped their feet in the water.

The group was at the the seashore in Dibba, Fujairah, at around 12am when the phenomenon occurred.

“I first saw a couple of twinkles in the water but within 30 minutes, the whole beach was glowing blue,” the 29-year-old told Gulf News.

“I first thought that they were diamonds on the water,” he added.

Professor Aaron Bartholomew, who specialises in marine sciences, said that the creatures they saw were a specific type of phytoplankton called dinoflagellates.

“They are a type of single-celled organism that is very common in marine waters. Most species of dinoflagellates are photosynthetic, and some species do produce bioluminescence.”

Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism, which occurs due to a chemical reaction within the organism’s body. However, it is unclear why and when such organisms choose to glow.

“One thought is that if they are being attacked by their predators, they briefly light up, to attract the predators of their attackers. They light up when disturbed in general though, so crashing waves on the beach may be glowing as they light up, or fish swimming through the water can cause them to light up with a glowing trail behind them,” said Bartholomew.

The family was initially hesitant to approach the water and let their children touch the bioluminescent dinoflagellates.

“We weren’t sure if they were toxic or harmful, so we were a little hesitant at first,” Sohail said. However, after a quick online search engine query, some of their concerns were cleared.

“We Googled what is that we were looking at and they seemed to be naturally occurring bioluminescent phytoplankton that are harmless,” Sohail said. The family then proceeded to take pictures and scoop some of the glowing water into their hands.

Bioluminescent phytoplankton seen at a beach in Dibba, Fujairah. Image Credit: Supplied

The organisms produce a weak light that might only be visible in dark surroundings. “The beach we were at was quite dark, I think that is why we could see them. It was also difficult to capture the light in pictures. We had to try a couple of different phones,” said Sohail.

Bartholomew from the American University of Sharjah confirmed that the organisms are not dangerous and said: “You don’t have to avoid them. I personally love swimming at night through flashing dinoflagellates, because it looks like you’re swimming through little flashing stars. I’ve done this several times at night on the East coast of the UAE, and it’s always beautiful.”

Dinoflagellates are found throughout the worlds’ oceans, but they’re generally more abundant in tropical and subtropical regions.

Various dinoflagellate species are always present in the Arabian Gulf throughout the year in high densities. However, the abundance of different species does change seasonally.

Various beach-goers have spotted bioluminescent phytoplankton on the coasts of Fujairah as well as Abu Dhabi in the past, maybe next time you plan a late night trip to the beach you might be lucky enough to experience these twinkling creatures.