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As if to celebrate the reopening of Southern California beaches, the Pacific Ocean threw a party, complete with a light show.

Then it left behind a smelly mess of dying algae.

The microorganisms produce stunning bioluminescence that has illuminated the surf up and down the coast for several weeks. Red tides occur when they reproduce en masse, staining seawater rusty brown with as many as 20 million cells per liter.

A photochemical reaction in the cells when they are jostled by waves emits a flash of electric blue, in a sort of southern, aquatic version of the aurora borealis. As the bloom dies out, however, the unpleasant scent of decay can travel miles from shore.

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