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Rare bioluminescence at Botany Bay & Walpole Bay Kent

Over the weekend an absolute bucket list dream of mine came true: I got to see and photograph bioluminescence on the sea at Botany Bay & Walpole Bay, Kent!!

I have literally dreamed my whole life of seeing this. Being a lover of light, I am fascinated by different light sources in nature and this was one I had always wondered if I’d be lucky enough to see as it is so elusive.

First on Saturday night at Botany Bay and then on Sunday night at Walpole Bay. I never ever thought I’d see moments from home!!

Whaaaaaa!!! It was so visible to the eye, I wasn’t sure how it would look but it looked just like the photos, this electric blue appearing as the waves crashed in!!

woman with hands in the air facing the sea with bioluminescence in the waves

What is bioluminescence?

Bioluminescent organisms produce and radiate light. The warm weather and calm seas over the last week led to an algae bloom of plankton.

Bioluminescence is sometimes called sea sparkle and you can see why because the sea literally glitters and glows as the waves move the plankton around.

How did you know to look for the bioluminescence?

I am hugely obsessed with nature and I am in many groups about bioluminescence across the UK and always thought I would have to travel to Wales to see it. I’d heard local seafarers say they had seen it from time to time but it certainly hasn’t been a regular thing here in Thanet. A couple of folk mentioned they had seen it, so I had to go & take a look to see if I could get lucky and find it. It is really finicky to find and moves around a lot with each tide.

To find it on our doorstep was a next level wow moment!

At Botany Bay, we were racing the thunderstorm at about 1.45pm when these were taken, with the clouds rapidly building in the sky and the lightening flashes moving rapidly closer, we’d agreed we’d stop shooting the moment rain drops started to fall.

A few moments before they did, the waves had stopped glowing and so it felt like a poetic conclusion to an absolutely breathtaking couple of hours in nature!

Bioluminescence waterfall over the wall of walpole bay tidal pool in margate

When is the best time to see bioluminescence?

With the presence of plankton being completely reliant on sea conditions, as the plankton move around, it is hard to predict and forecast.

The best time to see it is in the couple of hours either side of high tide, fortunately this week the high tides are at night which has meant we have been able to see it.

What camera settings did you use?

I shot the photos using my dSLR and you will need your camera on tripod with the following settings:
ISO 2000-2500
6-8 second shutter
I captured mine on a mixture of 24mm and 50mm lenses.

It is possible to capture it on a phone, putting it into night mode, though it flashes up quite quickly so you need to keep taking photos and hope you get some in a frame!

woman photographing Bioluminescence on her mobile phone at walpole bay tidal pool

What does the bioluminescence look like?

After seeing the sea sparkle at Botany Bay, I headed over to Walpole Bay Tidal Pool the next day to see if the jellyfish had made an appearance, as they feed on plankton, so where there is plankton, jellyfish won’t be far behind!

There were no jellyfish, but I did notice this kind of stringy goop at the side of the pool and a kind of slick filmy layer on water that wasn’t there before and some foam on the sea – I wondered if this could be what it looked like in the day time. Here’s a phone snap of what I spotted in the daylight…..

algae bloom plankton on the sea surface of walpole bay tidal pool

When we went back after dark, I was blown away to see that this foam and stringy stuff was indeed the plankton algae bloom and you can see it clearly in the photo below.

algae bloom plankton at walpole bay tidal pool margate with Bioluminescence

My friend brought something with us to agitate the watery foam with and as she did, something really amazing happened which you can see in the video!

What video settings did you use?

I shot this on my Fujifilm X-T5 and I was really at the edge of settings to be able to capture this, maxing out the settings to have a crack at capturing it moving! The video is very grainy because of the wildly high ISO, but it captures the moment and the flashes of electric blue bioluminescence are gorgeous to see! It was shot as follows:

Hand held with a 23mm lens set at f2

ISO 25600 (!!!!!!)

1/30 shutter speed

29.97 frames per second

Did it look just like the photos?

Yes! Unlike the aurora, the blue of the bioluminescence was just as vivid to the eye as it is in the photos and so it is easy to spot! As there wasn’t a lot of it around, you needed to be relatively close to the sea level to see it. We did spot it from the clifftop at Botany Bay but because there is so much light pollution from street lights etc, that zaps what your eyes can see and so it became so much more vivid the closer we got to the water.

Welcome a fine art print of the bioluminescence home.

Two of the images I’ve captured of the bioluminescence are available in my Print Shop & you can buy them here.

Images are proudly printed to order on sustainable Hahnemühle bamboo paper at the UK’s first fine art and photographic printing service that is 100% end-to-end carbon neutral. 10% of profits are donated to Marine Conservation Society. Order online here & prints are delivered to your door within 5-7 working days. Price includes printing & delivery within the UK.

Bioluminescence at Botany Bay - chalk stacks and electric blue sea sparkle

If you head out into nature to try and find the bioluminescence, I’d love to hear how you get on!

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