These Photographers Chase Bioluminescence in New Zealand

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On hot, moonless nights in New Zealand, they fan out across the beach in search of elusive, shimmering quarries.

They are not hunters, but photographers who chase bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon that gives an airy electric blue aura to the breaking waves of shining algae.

New Zealand, as enthusiasts say, is a particularly good place to “chase bio”. Still, it is notoriously difficult to predict when and where bioluminescence will appear. And if you shoot it at 3am, standing on a tripod and kneeling down to surf in almost total darkness, you’ll have additional obstacles.

Matthew Davison, 37, who lives in Auckland and sometimes goes out until sunrise shoots bioluminescence, said:

“But part of the charm and part of the adventure is that it’s so difficult that it makes it exciting,” he added. “When I found it, when I hit Blue & Gold, it felt very good.”

Bioluminescence is relatively rare on land, but very common in the ocean. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about four-fifths of animals living 200 to 1,000 meters (650 to 3,300 feet) below the surface are bioluminescent. Glows appear in different colors on land, but usually appear turquoise in the ocean. This is because it cuts seawater best.

Bioluminescent organisms, from fireflies to anglerfish, produce light from the energy released by chemical reactions in the body.

Many scientists, including Aristotle and Darwin, have been fascinated by bioluminescence for centuries, but the motivation for action against it is still a mystery, a professor emeritus at the University of Southern California said. Kenneth H. Neilson, who studied the study, said for decades.

Scientists generally believe that organisms shine to communicate with each other, seduce or detect prey, and warn or avoid predators.

Professor Neilson said the most common explanation for why algae glow in the ocean is the “theft alert” hypothesis. It is believed that the creatures glow when large fish swim to drive away small fish that eat algae.

Especially in nutrient-rich waters, the coastal waters turn blue during the breeding season of algae that live near the surface of the sea. Certain blinks of turquoise light occur in response to changes in pressure that occur when the waves collide.

According to Professor Neilson, the waves do not pose a threat to algae, but algae outbreaks occur anyway because the algae are programmed to respond to the pressure changes produced by the fish when swimming in the open ocean.

“The luminescence is at the tip of the wave and probably doesn’t help the glowing algae at all,” said Professor Neilson. “But if they go back a little further offshore, it could be a very good behavioral mechanism, as it can help them drive away predators.”

Bioluminescent photographers in New Zealand say that many work on a day laborer, and summer is generally the best time to find it. (Summer lasts from December to March in the Southern Hemisphere.) They say that the night after a storm is best because the water that flows from land to the sea often contains nutrient-rich substances that attract algae. Says.

Davison, a product developer at a technology company, has a way to find bioluminescence. First, he studies satellite imagery to identify blue-green algae off the coast. He then looks at other indicators such as wind direction and tide patterns to predict where the water will shine.

However, he is an exception. Other photographers rely primarily on a combination of luck, intuition, and occasional tips from neighbors who find blue sparks while strolling on the beach.

“If I’m completely honest, maybe eight out of ten times is either a coincidence or an intuition that it might be around,” he says, working in the orthopedic industry and often. Grant Burley, 48, who stopped taking pictures, said. Bioluminescence during a two-hour commute along the coastline of New Zealand’s North Island. “It’s not a knowledge-based guess.”

One source is a private Facebook group created two years ago for people in the Auckland region to discuss bioluminescence sightings. Stacy Ferreira, one of the group’s managers, currently has more than 7,000 members and welcomes about 2,000 new members each summer.

Ferreira said she created a group to allow others to “check for beautiful phenomena from the bucket list,” as we did in 2020. She wrote by email. “People of all backgrounds are involved, including talented photography enthusiasts, bioluminescence researchers, scientists, families, and everyone in between.”

For a “biochaser”, finding brilliance is just the beginning of the process of capturing a memorable image. After arriving at the beach, they usually set up a tripod on the waves and sometimes spend hours shooting in almost complete darkness as the blue patches flicker intermittently across the shore. Sometimes the flicker disappears after a few minutes and they go home empty-handed.

In the presence of “bio”, the key challenge is determining when to expose the image. Burley said the timing can range from a second to nearly two minutes, and it can be difficult to see on the spot by looking at a small camera screen to see if the exposure time is correct. I did.

Another challenge is that bioluminescent images may contain details that were not displayed when the shutter was clicked. This is because the camera sees much more than the naked eye, especially with long exposures at night.

“In the daytime, I say,’There are trees, sunsets and cliffs, and I’m moving to the left,'” said Alistair Bain, 38, a high school teacher who lives near Mr. Burley in the suburbs. The Wanga Palau Peninsula, north of central Auckland. “You don’t have any of it at night.”

For all challenges, photographers say bioluminescent hunting is partly rewarding because the phenomenon is endlessly amazing.

One sunny night, Mr. Bain drove about 40 miles to the beach where he wanted to take a picture of the Milky Way galaxy. When he arrived, he saw a shining coastline as well as a star-filled sky. “It was a special thing that I came across by chance,” he said.

Another time, Mr. Davison got out of the car on a low-expected beach. It was raining, but heavy rain usually ruined the bioluminescence show, so he thought it would be a problem.

But in this case, the rainfall was mild enough that, as far as he could see, it activated algae shining across the surface of the sea. So he picked up the camera and started shooting.

“Unless you were there, no one could believe what you were witnessing unless you caught it-perhaps you couldn’t even imagine,” Davison said. “That’s why I love taking this photo or video. The best way to share what you see is through the power of images.”

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