Nameless and the Noctiluca

Doesn’t that sound like a great title for a children’s book? Now to figure out what the story is.

Today Nameless is floating in a sea of orange, a bloom of algae called noctiluca scintillans. This is one of the species that earlier this month lighted up the night with bio-luminescence – also known as phosphorescence. In Europe apparently it’s known as Sea Sparkle. When I paddled back to shore after the fireworks display on July 3rd each dip of my paddle trailed pale blue light.

Now the long stretch of hot weather has urged the little creatures into a frenzy of reproduction and the entire harbor is covered with streaks of orange. Some say it looks like a giant spill of tomato soup. I think it’s beautiful.

Hark back to elementary school art lessons where we learned that blue and orange are complimentary colors. The swirls and eddies of orange sherbet color overlays the bright blue of the water in a really pretty way. It looks like sunset all day long.

Unfortunately it also smells. Here it is a beautiful, sunny summer day and you really have to keep the doors and windows closed to avoid breathing the fumes. There’s no toxicity, it’s just smelly. Like the way your hands smell after an hour of gutting fish. Like opening a jar of fish eggs that have been left too long in the sun. Like cooked caviar. It’s just a bit much.

Though not toxic to people or marine creatures, extreme blooms of noctiluca are causing problems here and there. In Washington’s Hood Canal it’s implicated in a low oxygen condition that leads to fish kills. Scientists think that an overabundance of the creatures is a result of a corresponding overabundance of nutrients from fertilizers, chemicals and (ahem) agricultural by-products entering the water by way of runoff.I think this may be what inspired Edvard Munch to paint The Scream. I could have been his model for that painting, as this is exactly what I feel like doing when I wake up on a summer morning, look out at the harbor and see we’re in for a noctiluca day.

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