Bioluminescence is not an unfamiliar sight in California, but when it’s spotted, it’s often aquatic creatures playing in the lit waters.

Earlier this week, however, a photographer and videographer captured some humans getting in on the fun.

In Huntington Beach, boogie boarders took to the ocean to catch some glowing waves, which are usually the result of plankton called Lingulodinium polyedra, often shortened to L. poly.

“It’s been a while since we’ve seen it here but the waves this time around were unbelievably bright,” Patrick Coyne, who goes by @patrickc_la on Instagram, shared on the social media platform. “The beach was crowded with people enjoying the show and we all had a blast.”

Coyne, who has a talent for capturing stunning bioluminescent scenes, previously shared videos of dolphins frolicking in the waves off Newport Beach in 2020 and a school of mullet playing in bioluminescent water last year.

Bioluminescent waves
Video captured by Instagram user @patrickc_la shows boogie boarders riding on bioluminescent waves on Sept. 5, 2023.

While bioluminescence can be beautiful to view, it also can be hazardous to animal life, including humans.

Such displays often accompany red tides, otherwise known as harmful algae blooms, one of which was reported in Newport Beach on Tuesday.

“Not all algal blooms are harmful. Most blooms, in fact, are beneficial because the tiny plants are food for animals in the ocean. In fact, they are the major source of energy that fuels the ocean food web,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “A small percentage of algae, however, produce powerful toxins that can kill fish, shellfish, mammals, and birds, and may directly or indirectly cause illness in people.”

The Scripps Institutution of Oceanography at UC San Diego explains that the most dangerous red tides occur in the Mediterranean Sea, where L. poly produces a neurotoxin called yessotoxin.

“Local populations do not produce yessotoxin,” the organization said. “However, some people are sensitive to inhaling air associated with the red tide, so the organisms must be producing other compounds that can affect human health. In general during a red tide there is lots of dissolved and particulate matter in the water with associated enhanced microbial activity. It is personal choice whether to go in the water, but there is no public health warning associated with the red tide.”