As any 5-year-old with a bedroom ceiling full of star and planet stickers will tell you, there's something really cool about things that glow in the dark. At that age, we all had something in our bedrooms that, once mom turned the lights out, would come alive with an eerie luminescence. Often, a toy's ability to glow in the dark was the one thing keeping it from the trash can when I had to clean my room. Post-Halloween spider rings would sit unnoticed in a pile of other useless trinkets on my dresser until, with the flick of a switch, they were magically transformed into my personal sentinels, defending me against a myriad of unknown evils that might otherwise inflict great harm upon me. And most nights, my consciousness faded long before the comforting glow of my guardians.
Years later, while hanging out at a friend's Laguna Beach apartment, I was treated to my first experience with red tide. Aided immensely by both the full moon and the toke I had taken off the "four-footer," the effect of what I witnessed could only be described as life-altering. I was in my mid-20s and experiencing something I hadn't known since I was a boy: magic. And this wasn't some card trick or special effect on TV; this was real-life magic happening right before my eyes. And the best part about it was that unlike any trick that hack David Blaine has ever done, knowing the secret behind this magic enhanced my awe rather than diminished it.
Although researchers now know how marine organisms produce their own light, they are still a little confused as to why. Most bioluminescent creatures only glow when disturbed—an action not normally associated with self-defense. Maybe the 5-year-olds have it right—maybe bioluminescence is what Mother Nature has given her children who are scared of the dark. Come join the Ocean Institute's Bioluminescence Cruise this Saturday and get a little perspective on your own follies as you watch some of nature's tinier creatures work through their own anxieties.
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Bioluminescence Cruise at the Dana Point Ocean Institute, 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point, (949) 496-2274. Sat., 8-10:30 p.m. $22-$25; discounts available for members.