For the last few nights, the waves hitting the shore at Mumbai’s Juhu Beach have been shimmering a bright shade of blue. At first sight, this looks magical and otherworldly, somewhat like a scene from Hollywood film Life of Pi, but it’s real—and not as rare as one would imagine. Bioluminescent marine microbes called phytoplankton are responsible for lighting up the waters at night.
Parvish Pandya, who is vice-principal and assistant professor of Zoology at Bhavan’s College in Mumbai, first saw the phenomenon at Juhu Beach two nights ago, but he first heard of the bioluminescence at this beach from his students in January 2016. While oceans across the world contain free-floating bioluminescent microorganisms, it’s a special sight to see them so close to the shore.
The presence of phytoplankton known as dinoflagellates in the water is the most common reason for marine bioluminescence. Pandya explains, “When sea waves churn, a mechanical action occurs, which disturbs these unicellular microorganisms and makes them release a blue light. The waves light up just before the surf turns white.”
“Marine bioluminescence can generally be spotted about half a kilometre away from the coastline in the nighttime,” says Mumbai-based naturalist Shardul Bajikar. “Due to changes in currents and tides, sometimes the microbes wash ashore, creating events like this one.”
According to Pandya, the bioluminescence will can be spotted for a few more nights. It’s most visible under a dark sky, Pandya says, so head to Juhu Beach by around 9.30p.m. The cement jetty on the beach offers a vantage point from which to see the bioluminescence, but it gets submerged when the high tide rolls in, which would occur after midnight. To reach the jetty, walk along the beach (directions here).
UPDATE: On Thur November 17, 2016, some travellers also spotted glowing patches of the sea at the beach down the lane beside Novotel Hotel in Juhu, between 9-10p.m.
Fabiola Monteiro was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's digital team. Since then, her words have featured in The Hindu, Mint Lounge, Roads & Kingdoms, The Goya Journal, and Condé Nast Traveller India. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro and is on Instagram @fabiolamonteiro.