When I traveled to Madagascar six years ago, I had the amazing privilege of snorkeling in the Indian Ocean. One animal that kept appearing over and over again in the deep blue were sea turtles. They were content to lazily float up to you, mask to beak, and simply check you out. To me, they are the coolest reptiles and one of my favorite animals. However, I have to say that I am insanely jealous of a group of scientists who stumbled upon a recent discovery about these marine creatures that is quite baffling and has never been seen before.

Like a neon sign on the street, sea turtles glow in the dark!!

A biofluorescent sea turtle was discovered near the Solomon Islands

A biofluorescent sea turtle was discovered near the Solomon Islands

Check out the link below to see actual footage of this amazing event!

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9kmE7D5ulSA

Yup….you heard me…..glow in the dark. Scientists who were night diving just off the coast of the Solomon Islands discovered the very first sighting of a reptile that was biofluorescent; something that was never heard or thought of until now. The hawksbill sea turtle glowed a steady green and red as it was captured swimming on video. An animal that is biofluorescent has the unique ability to change blue light into another color as it hits a surface. The most common colors that are exhibited through biofluorescence are orange, red and green. imageFish, sharks, mantis shrimp and certain kinds of small, marine crustaceans all have the capability to fluoresce. Now take a moment to sit back, relax and marvel at the beautiful pictures below of other marine organisms that glow.

Marine biologists have found that certain kinds of fish, coral, sharks and stingrays are biofluorescent and can glow in the dark

Marine biologists have found that certain kinds of fish, coral, sharks and stingrays are biofluorescent and can glow in the dark

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But what is the difference between biofluorescence and bioluminescence? Bioluminescence is when an animal has the ability to actually make their own light from bacteria that live on or within the animal or through a complex set of chemical reactions that occur.  Again, animals that are biofluorescent can’t make their own light but instead reflect blue light into different colors. Imagine if we could either reflect or produce our own light. We would all be walking, talking disco parties and neon signs!

David Gruber, a marine biologist from the City University of New York, found this startling but amazing find while filming in the Solomon Islands. He was night diving and filming the biofluorescence of sharks and fish when out of nowhere a neon red and green sea turtle appeared. He compared the the sea turtle a glowing, alien spaceship rising out of the blackness. Using an underwater camera with blue illumination and a yellow filter enabled David Gruber and his team to spot biofluorescent animals. The marine biologist followed the sea turtle for a short time while filming but eventually let it go so as not to stress the animal out. This living spaceship then proceeded to fade into the seeming nothingness. Once again, the ocean had closed the lid of its treasure chest of secrets and mysteries until another opportunity arose.

A short time later, Gruber was able to study a group of captive hawksbill sea turtles for traces of biofluorescence. He hit the jackpot when he observed that they all glowed a distinctive red. It was now clear that reptiles, in addition to fish and crustaceans, could biofluoresce.

Gruber and his team believe that hawksbill sea turtles may biofluoresce as a means of camouflaging themselves from predators. The mottled browns and tans on the shell of a hawksbill sea turtle allows it to hide in rocky reefs during the day. In a nocturnal world teeming with biofluorescent life, sea turtles would be hard to spot. They would simply be another set of lights within this aquatic New York City.

Unfortunately, time may be running out for more opportunities to study biofluorescence in the hawksbill sea turtle. Their world populations have declined by about ninety percent from poaching and habitat loss. This makes the hawksbill sea turtle one of the rarest reptiles on the planet. The green sea turtle, a close relative of the hawksbill sea turtle, may be able to shed more light on this rare, reptilian phenomena.

Hawksbill sea turtles are one of the rarest reptiles in the world

Hawksbill sea turtles are one of the rarest reptiles in the world

Even though this discovery has rocked the marine biology world, more studies need to be conducted to figure out why sea turtles, particularly hawksbills, biofluoresce. Is it used for communication or defense? Do other species of sea turtles biofluoresce? Is it even possible that a few species of non-marine reptiles glow in the dark? This is why it is so important to conserve and protect all of the world’s plants and animals; both on land and in the sea. Can you imagine all that we could potentially find, observe and discover? It is a possibility that a few of these future discoveries will greatly benefit all mankind. May this article illuminate your path and point you to the glowing signs of discovery, wonder and awe.

By Julie Cremer

Works Cited:

Lee, Jane J. “Exclusive Video: First ‘Glowing Sea Turtle Found”. National Geographic online. www.news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/150928-sea-turtle-hawksbill-glowing-biofluorescence-coral-reef-ocean-animals-science/#. Web. 28th September, 2015. Accessed 30th September, 2015.