A photographer has shared a series of haunting and eye-catching images that show a shoreline near Auckland, New Zealand being lit up with blue glowing bioluminescent plankton.

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Bioluminescent plankton light up Tindalls Bay in New Zealand © Alistair Bain

Captured by Alistair Bain, a high school teacher with a passion for photography, the images were taken at Tindalls Bay on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula just north of the city. The waters can be seen glowing in a ghostly hue, a phenomenon caused by the marine plankton in the area. Having taken the images, Alistair asked a colleague of his, marine scientist and teacher Daniel Ward, to explain more about what causes the colourful display.

“The glow is caused by an oxidation reaction within the organism’s body to produce light in order to distract and evade predators. It can be difficult to predict when these blooms of marine plankton will show up, even in their preferred warmer water temperatures. For the best experience of bioluminescence, the water needs to be disturbed with wave action or simply by a swimmer splashing around – which triggers their defence mechanism,” Daniel Ward explained.

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Despite being from the area, it's only the second time the photographer has seen the plankton glowing blue © Alistair Bain

Despite the fact that he grew up in the area, this was only the second time Alistair had ever seen the bioluminescence. Earlier in the evening, his sister had mentioned to him that she had noticed the water turning an unusual colour, suggesting that it would be a good night for him to go with his camera to try to capture it. Heading out after sunset with his mother, Alistair checked a few other beaches before finding the patch of active plankton being watched by a small crowd of local people. 

“It was very difficult to take a picture of. The camera's autofocus system doesn't work in the dark so you have to manually focus the lens. You also have to use manual settings to tell the camera how much light to gather. There was a large contrast of light in different parts of the photo. Bright lights from a nearby city and dark shadows under a tree, also obviously trying to get the exposure correct to show the plankton's glowing light clearly. My photos were between 10 and 30 seconds exposures, so trying to capture myself in the photo added another level of complexity,” Alistair told Lonely Planet. 

The photographer also said that the reaction to the images has been great, and he is happy to be able to show off the beauty of his local area.

More of Alistair’s work is available on this Facebook page.

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