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Bioluminescent “Avatar” Waves in Fishhoek, Cape Town

It was around midday at the ocean facing pent-office when I saw huge commotion amongst the waves, with thousands of birds bobbing to and fro as people started gathering. Rising from my desk chair to have a closer look, I exclaimed as I noticed streaks of red amid the white water. The office was alive with debate as to what this was. Was it a shark attack? Was it a beached whale? Was it a sardine run? No, just algae blooms. Astonishingly, it was the bioluminescent Noctiluca scintillans bloom – the “scintillating night light” bloom – the magical Avatar-esque waves that occur on rare occasions. It was the day I had anticipated for two and a half years since moving to Cape Town (us Vaalies, hey) and heard about this wonder.

An excursion with a view

“Scintillating night light” bloom in Fishhoek on Monday, 11 October 2020.
“Scintillating night light” bloom in Fishhoek on Monday, 11 October 2020 [Photo by Kevin de Bruin].

Before heading out for Monday night football, I packed a towel and a change of clothes because I refused to miss it. It actually turned into a spectacular night. After picking up some of my Umvoto colleagues, we stopped on the scenic ascent along Boyes Drive and caught breathtaking flickers of underwater lightning littering the shorefront, while being peacefully greeted by a pulsing firefly, all under a haloed moon high above the Muizenberg mountains. It only got better as we reached Fishhoek beach to view the bioluminescent brilliance up close.

“Scintillating night light” bloom in Fishhoek on Monday, 11 October 2020 [Video by Kevin de Bruin].

What causes bioluminescence?

These microorganisms produce light due to enzymatic chemical reactions triggered by the shear stress of being disturbed by the wave action. Although not every wave is a spectacle, when the elements harmonise, a shimmer of radiant blue occurs as the waves crash, walking through the swash zone seems like a catastrophic glitter spill, splashing the water feels like flame throwing, and stomping on the seafloor ignites explosions of propane-blue beneath your feet. It is entrancing as you gaze at swell after swell, waiting for it to blaze brighter than the previous wave on the nightfall canvas.

These are the moments I long for, the moments I chase in life, the moments to never stop exploring. Total contentment for the soul.


8 Beach Road

muizenberg, Cape town