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A Guide to Bioluminescent Plankton in The Maldives

Have you always dreamt of seeing this magical phenomenon of bioluminescent plankton lighting up the tropical beaches of The Maldives at night?

You’re in luck, here is your complete guide to seeing bioluminescence in The Maldives: what it is and why it happens, when to see it, where to see it and most importantly, how to photograph it (all photographs on here have been taken by our Maldives Secrets Team)!

Please note that it a rather rare sight to see and you’ll need research, luck and patience on your side. So, we hope this information is valuable to you and that you get to experience this magical moment!

What is Bioluminescent Plankton and why does it glow?

Bioluminescent plankton is a microorganism, also known as phytoplankton or dinoflagellates. Planktons are aquatic micro-organisms that are bioluminescent in nature and radiate a vibrant blue light under sea, when agitated or moving. It looks exactly like a ‘sea of stars’, and is a truly mesmerising experience. As you walk along the shoreline, you’ll notice that your footprints are leaving glowing traces behind you… You can also go for a night swim amongst the planktons for a once-in-a-lifetime memory!

So, why do the planktons glow? Researchers have studied that the bioluminescence is in fact used as a defence mechanism against predators as the tiny flashes of blue light disorientate and surprise the predator. These micro-organisms produce light using a chemical called luciferin. This type of plankton, called dinoflagellates, produce luciferin on their own and the bioluminescent light that they emit is called ‘cold light’.

When to see Bioluminescent Plankton in The Maldives?

Bioluminescent plankton can appear any time of the year in The Maldives, but it is said that from June to December, there are greater volumes of plankton in the seas of The Maldives - making it the best time to visit The Maldives for high possibilities of seeing bioluminescence, when the phytoplankton glows brightly in the ocean after the sun has set and the skies get darker.

For a high chance of spotting bioluminescence, you should visit five days after the full moon from mid-May when the skies are dark during the warm summer months and the glowing effect becomes more pronounced. During the months between July to December, there is very little moonlight and the bioluminescent waves look even brighter creating a magical effect. This is also the ‘low season’, with less tourists and cheaper prices - so its a great time to visit.

Vast areas of the ocean can become populated by glowing plankton but they are especially common in warm-water lagoons that have narrow openings to the sea. This causes the plankton to gather and become trapped. In the day time, the water might look orange due to this effect.

You will only be able to see bioluminescent plankton when the tidal currents cause the plankton to be washed towards the shore in mass, creating a spectacular show. It is actually difficult to predict when you may be lucky enough to witness plankton, so do your research on which areas are famous for it and make sure to visit these bioluminescent hotspots at night. This phenomenon makes the waves glow as they gently move over the beach.

Where to see Bioluminescent Plankton in The Maldives?

You can actually see the Bioluminescent Plankton all over The Maldives. These photos were taken by us, at Hulhumale Beach which is right next to the capital city of Malé! You wouldn’t think that you would see it there, but you do! This is proof that you can spot this phenomenon all over The Maldives, not just in remote areas, but there are some hotspots where you can see the bioluminescence better in some places than others.

One of the most famous spots is in Raa Atoll, Vaadhoo Island. Here, you will find a ‘Sea of Stars’ Beach, which is mostly known for its phenomenal fluorescent, glowing waves due to the presence of millions of phytoplankton in the ocean. Vaadhoo is a small island with no more than 500 inhabitants but the island has earned itself a place on the global tourism map owing to this phenomenon. You will find a bunch of guesthouses that you stay in when visiting Vaadhoo. Contact us for more information!

Although Vaadhoo Island in Raa Atoll is the most well-known spot, bioluminescent plankton can also be viewed on one of the 1200 other islands in The Maldives in the right conditions too.

How to take photos of Bioluminescent Plankton?

Our camera setting when capturing these photos were:

  • ISO 3200

  • f/3.5

  • 18mm

  • 1.3 sec

You will need a high ISO to capture as much light as possible, you will also need a long exposure. Your photos may come out a little noisy like ours, but then they can later be edited and developed with noise reduction to make them look amazing!

Top Tips for seeing Bioluminescent Plankton in The Maldives

  • Turn off your lights and walk along the beach in the night

  • Bring a professional camera that can take great photos in low light conditions

  • Bring a tripod for your camera, your camera will need to remain still to capture good photographs

  • To check if the planktons are there, put your feet or hands in the water to agitate it and observe if blue twinkling light are created from the movement. If they are, you’re in luck! Wait for an impressive wave of plankton to wash upon the shore for a truly magical sight.

  • Even though you’re in the tropics, bring a jumper with you as it may get a little windy and chilly waiting in the dark on a beach at night.

  • Don’t have hopes that are too high! Nature is completely unpredictable and organising a once-in-a-lifetime trip to The Maldives in the hope of experiencing bioluminescent plankton might set you up for disappointment.

We hope this guide has helped and do contact us if you want more information. If you find the planktons share and tag us so that we can admire this magical phenomena with you!!

Best of luck!

- Maldives Secrets


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Corinne Mahler
Corinne Mahler
Nov 28, 2021

I was on a safari boat this November 2021 and saw luminescent plankton in the harbour of Hulhumalé on the safari boat, even in the toilet bowl at night when flushing (without light, of course). Unbelievable!

Maldives Secrets
Maldives Secrets
Nov 29, 2021
Replying to

Wow that is incredible! You were very lucky to see it - even in the toilet bowl!! Haha!

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