A Sea of Stars: World’s Best Places to View Bioluminescent Creatures

Winter darkness have you feeling blue? Bring the light back into your life with these otherworldly destinations that have bioluminescent magic! From the aptly named glowworms, to plankton, fish, and mushrooms, these memorable spots are sure to mesmerize.


If you’ve been on the bucket-list side of the internet for more than a few minutes, you’ve likely seen the dreamy photos of glowing blue beaches of the Maldives. This effect, caused by little ostracod crustaceans (not phytoplankton as previously thought), can be seen on various islands, including Vaadhoo Island, and can glow for over a minute! You can see this phenomena on about half of the islands of the Maldives (including Kuredu, Finalholi and Veligandu). For a more detailed list, check out more beaches here.

Cambodia’s Koh Rong beaches let you swim in their star-speckled waters!

Unlike the Maldives, Cambodia’s glow power DOES come from phytoplankton. The island paradise of Koh Rong boasts numerous beaches to see these luminous waters, including Saracen Bay, Police Beach, and Long Set Beach. Booking at Treehouse Bungalows allows for a great view of the nightly blue beaches as does the lovely Long Set Resort. The best way to see the plankton is, of course, from a boat on the water and tours are easy to come by. The area is flush with boats advertising their readiness to take tourists out to view one of the greatest natural beauties in the area.

New Zealand’s Waitomo Caves are actually three caves formed over 30 million years.

New Zealand
What would a trip to New Zealand be without visiting the Waitomo Glowworm Caves (after the requisite pilgrimage to Hobbiton, of course)? These caves, set alight by the glowworm Arachnocampa luminosa, have been known for hundreds of years, are now run by majority Maori, who gave the cave its name (wai=water + tomo = hole). Amazing tours are given here, arranged at the visitor’s center, and include a boat ride at the end!
Not planning on going to New Zealand? Australia is also home to the Newnes Glow Worm Tunnel, where glowing larval flies have set up shop in an abandoned rail tunnel.

Toyama Bay is home to millions of glowing Watasenia scintillans squid, viewable in the wee hours of March through June. Photo by: Osamu Inamura

Japan’s many islands are great for viewing not only bioluminescent animals, but also fungal life forms! The mountain trails of Shikoku are lined with glowing mushrooms come rainy season. Hachijo Island is also home to seven different bioluminescent mushrooms (known to locals as hato-no-hi, or “pigeon fire”) which also glow in the rainy season, from May to September. It’s hypothesized that these mushrooms glow to attract insects to spread their spores. For more information, researcher Kunihiko Otsuki gives an overview of the other little glowing spots of Japan here.

In spring from March-June, Toyama Bay overflows with millions of glowing small firefly squid who emerge from their normal depths to attract small fish near the surface of the water with their blue light. Osamu Inamura, who is the director of the Uozu Aquarium in Uozu City (where you can view firefly squid), recommends April for prime viewing.
Hotaru Ika Museum is a great place to start (being the only firefly squid museum in the world, for one), and they also conduct boat tours from March-May. The only catch is… these trips leave at 3AM.

Florida’s rainy season brings about these glowing comb jellies that glow both blue AND rainbow as they swim.

Unlike other locations where bioluminescent creatures come during warmer months, Merritt Island, in the Indian River Lagoon plays host to bioluminescent Comb Jellies (not jellyfish) from October to May, setting the water alight with their green and sometimes even rainbow lights. Tons of amazing tours operate that will let you kayak yourself out on these waters at night. These dinoflagellates emit their colors in two ways. The first, emitting the blue-green light, is bioluminescence and appears when the jelly is touched or disturbed in the water. The other rainbow lights are created when the jelly is propelling itself through the water with its cilia which scatters and refracts light which pulses.

The world of glowing creatures and flora isn’t limited to this list, by far! From Brazil to South Africa, Asia and even North America, bioluminescent life can be found everywhere… if you know where to look.

Any tips on bioluminescent adventures in your area? Let us know!
Cover photo courtesy of The Residences Grand Cayman Rentals

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