Friday, 14 November 2014

The Waves of Vaadhoo Island

The Maldives consists of 1,190 islands, all of which sit in the midst of the Indian ocean-Arabian sea. It is one of the world's most geographically dispersed countries, sprawling over an area of 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq miles); and by means of both population and land area, the Maldives is the smallest country in Asia. This cluster of islands literally teeters above the ocean with an elevation of 1.5 meters. It is the lowest lying country in the world, and therefore, one of the most susceptible to the effects of global warming. One of the islands contained within this spectacular country is Vaadhoo island, and it is on this island where the ocean sparkles unlike anywhere else on earth. Unlike anything you have ever seen before. 

Vaadhoo island is a member of the Raa Atoll, which is one of the 26 Atolls that combine to construct the Maldives. The population of this island was last counted in 2007, where it was discovered that 500 incredibly fortunate people were classed as permanent inhabitants. Many people travel to this island each year to gaze upon the ocean once the sun has set. The reason for this is because the waters that surround Vaadhoo island literally sparkle due to the huge presence of bioluminescent phytoplankton. This has lead to the waters that surround the island being christened the 'sea of stars'. In ancient Chinese poetry these strange glowing specks of light that filled the ocean were thought to have been underwater fireflies. They believed that these fireflies would leave the ocean to create fire on land, which in turn created the entirely illogical belief that all fires originated from the oceans. In Japan, bioluminescence was also thought to have been produced by underwater fireflies. However, in Japanese mythology these fireflies were thought to have been the tears of a beautiful moon princess, who was banished to the moon on her twentieth birthday. It wasn't until the Greek philosopher Aristotle came along in the fourth century B.C.E., and wrote, "some things, though they are not in their nature fire, nor any species of fire, yet seem to produce light." that bioluminescence was officially documented. 

Various species of phytoplankton are known to be bioluminescent, meaning that this amazing natural sight can be viewed in various locations ranging from: Cairns, Australia; Manasquan beach, New Jersey, USA; Trelawny, Jamaica; Mosquito bay, Puerto Rico; Toyama bay, Japan; Zeebrugge, Belgium; and Bali, Indonesia. It is, however, particularly strong at Vaadhoo island. The majority of bioluminescence is caused by the phytoplankton known as, dinoflagellates. These dinoflagellates glow when disturbed; so as the wind and tide play with the ocean and its contents, the dinoflagellates emit a brilliant blue 'micro flash' which causes the waters to sparkle like glitter. Many people have been known to walk along the shoreline and watch the dinoflagellates light up as they stand on them. This must be something of a truly surreal experience. The best time to view the sea of stars is from late summer through to new year, although it is visible all year round. However, the level of bioluminescence does differ from time to time, yet no method of calculation has ever been established. It appears to be entirely random. 

Random, yet beautiful.

The glowing waters of Vadhoo island are known as the 'sea of stars'. It's easy to see why.

Shapes can be drawn in the wet sand by simply disturbing the bioluminescent phytoplankton.

Left: A glowing shoreline.
Right top: Footprints in the wet sand.
Right bottom: The sea of stars in full flow.

- Until the next Butterfly...