An amateur photographer says a bioluminescent display he captured on Monday night north of Auckland was “the best show” of the spectacular natural light show that he’d ever seen.
Matthew Davison took the photos late on Monday night and early Tuesday morning at Big Manly Beach on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula.
Dr Mary Sewell, a marine biologist at Auckland University, said "bioluminescence like this is pretty common to see around New Zealand during the summer".
"The bioluminescence is produced by an enzyme system (luciferin/luciferase) which emits light and is also used by other organisms like bacteria and fireflies."
Davison is an amateur nature photographer and estimates that he’s seen the phenomenon six or seven times, out on boats or kayaks, in the Bay of Islands and on the east coast north of Auckland.
“Usually you have to splash around a bit, or turn on a boat motor, or go kayaking or something to actually see it, but this you could literally stand on the beach and it was just everywhere,” Davison said.
“The bioluminescent display is, for me, one of the best shows you can get.”
“This was undoubtedly the best naked eye visibility that I have ever seen.”
The 37-year-old said the Whangaparaoa Peninsula seemed to be a hot spot for the phenomenon, with the blue light starting to appear late on Monday night.
“At about 10 o’clock, the waves started omitting an iridescent blue light, which was kind of the precursor and it just got better from there,” he said.
“As the tide came in and waves crashed closer to the shore, it just got better and better.”
Davison said there was a speculation that the heavy rain in Auckland over the preceding days had caused the stunning show.
“What we saw a couple of days ago at the beaches around the Whangaparaoa Peninsula area, basically there were patches of sort of red and pink algae blooms all around the beaches,” he said.
"It was kind of pink or red around the beaches and that was a precursor that potentially we were going to get a show tonight.”
Sewell said "the likely organism causing the bioluminescence (in these photos) is a dinoflagellate algae".
"The enzyme reaction is produced in response to agitation – from wind, waves, movement from swimmers or boats."
Sewell could not be sure what made this display so spectacular, with heavy rain one explanation for a certain type of species.
"The cause depends on the species of dinoflagellate causing the bloom – some will bloom in response to nutrients," Sewell said.
"A common dinoflagellate species that causes bioluminescence is Noctiluca, and this feeds on other cells, so it will bloom when the other algae (on which it feeds) blooms. The only way to be sure (of the cause) is to have collections of the bloom to know which dinoflagellate species is the main species in the bloom."
Davison has been photographing nature for over 15 years and he did have some advice for those interested in photographing the bioluminescent displays.
“I just love capturing nature and interesting things in the shows that nature puts on.
“I usually spend a lot of time travelling around New Zealand and across the globe capturing some pretty extreme things, and things that are a little bit different.”
“A lot of people have been asking about it on social media and you do need to have a proper camera, lens, and tripod, in order to capture it properly.”
“There were a few people with cellphones and they would have been very disappointed.”
"Last night was just an amazing naked eye show. You don’t need to have a high-powered expensive camera to appreciate what I saw last night, but if you do want to get a really good shot, you will need a good camera, a good lowlight lens, and the most important thing is to bring a tripod.”
“Even if you want to try capture it on a cellphone, you need to have a tripod because it just comes out as a blurry mess without one, even if you can get a small tripod, it will make the shot a lot stronger.”