Exploring a Biofluorescent Reef

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Explorers gear up for a night dive on the House Reef at Angel Island, Indonesia. 37.8600° N, 122.4300° W.

A setting sun darkens the surrounding islands of Komodo National Park, Indonesia, and while your typical diver is turning in for the night with a cold Bintang, we gear up. Explorers Club Flag Expedition #216 was not like the others. Fueled by our curiosity for the mysterious biological phenomena where blue light is absorbed by certain marine creatures and transformed into vivid shades of green, yellow, and red, this expedition blended cutting edge cinematography and science to capture some of the first-ever time lapse recordings of fluorescent anemones, corals, and bony fishes.

Put simply, our purpose was to film a fluorescent event on a coral reef, a sight best captured at night. These reefs have unique structures that enable them to glow neon red, green, and orange, a process known as biofluorescence. Unlike bioluminescence, a phenomenon whereby organisms produce their own light, when they want to, by way of a chemical reaction, biofluorescence is a passive process that animals can’t turn off and on and biofluorescence is not visible with the naked eye. It requires a blue-light and yellow filter over the eye, and it is best illuminated at night.

That means that with the right gear, we had a good chance of encountering a biofluorescent event. Oh and gear we had: GoPro cameras, retrofitted with an extended battery life and yellow lens, blue lighting systems, weights, tripods, and a homemade buoy made from plastic bag strips and sandals. The team had their hands full. Descending onto the reef, we place yellow filters over our goggles and turn on the blue lights. Suddenly everything is black, except for a select brain coral head and the occasional anemone which stand out in neon. —> Read More