Sea sparkle algae dazzles beachgoers at Tasmania's Preservation Bay

Chiara Palazzo
Leanne Marshall captured bioluminescence near Rocky Cape National Park, Tasmania - Leanne Marshall via Storyful

Tasmania’s northwest shores were glowing blue on Monday night as bioluminescent algae ushered in the stunning phenomenon along the coast.

Beachgoers have been sharing stunning images of the bright blue glow on the Australian island's north-west coast.

The bioluminescence event is caused by single-celled algae or plant plankton called Noctiluca scintillans, also known as sea sparkle, which glows when disturbed.

The phenomenon presents itself as a "red tide" in daylight, with water turning a deep red, brown, or orange colour.

The algae glow bright blue during the night when disturbed by waves or currents.

Leanne Marshall, a photographer based in Tasmania, captured some incredible images near Rocky Cape National Park on Monday night.

Another beachgoer photographed the phenomenon at Preservation Bay, about 50 km east of that.

Gustaaf Hallegraeff, a professor in aquatic botany at the University of Tasmania, told ABC News scientists believe the flashing mechanism is deployed to scare off predators.

"Imagine there's a little animal that wants to eat this plankton and suddenly it flashes at you," he said.

No toxic effects are known, according to the University of Tasmania, but it is possible that the high ammonia content of the cells irritates fish, which generally avoid the bloom areas. 

Professor Hallegraeff told ABC that the Noctiluca was first reported in Sydney Harbour in 1860 but it has expanded a great deal since then.

"In the 2000s we saw it really move southwards and now it's here permanently in Tasmania," he said.

"We have some evidence that ocean currents and the warming of the oceans have contributed to it — it's definitely a species that is showing a spectacular range expansion in the last 20 years."

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