Bioluminescent waves come to Westside shores, drawing crowds despite beach closures

By Kellie Chudzinski

Blue waves hit the shores of Playa del Rey

From Baja California to Santa Barbara, a dazzling natural phenomenon has created a light show crashing onto California’s southern coast.

A unique microscopic algae has put on a neon blue bioluminescent display for those with an oceanfront view or willing to brave the closed beaches.

Though LA County beaches have been closed for more than six weeks, the nightly displays of glowing waves have appeared locally since early May and drawn large crowds to Westside beaches, including Dockweiler and Playa del Rey, with many onlookers visiting local beaches and clogging coastal roadways this past weekend. The blue waves have also been spotted off the shores of Venice Beach and, over the weekend, the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station shared a video of the bioluminescent waves filmed from a patrol boat in the area. A police presence was reported at Malibu beaches to deter onlookers from entering the closed oceanfront, according to reporting from CBS Los Angeles.

During the day, the blue wave-inducing organisms emit a brown or red color, giving them the name of the Red Tide, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. The species join together on the surface and in darkness emit a bright blue bioluminescent glow when disrupted by movements such as a wave, surfboard or boat.

The occurrence happens every few years and it is unknown how long it will last. According to the Scripps Institution, the natural phenonomenon can last anywhere from a few days to months, and usually gives way to a putrid smell in its final phase, according to reporting from the Los Angeles Times. The Times also reports that locals from Venice to further up the Santa Monica Bay have started to notice an unsavory smell coming from area beaches.

This particular bloom was first observed by Scripps back in March and has been drawing in more viewers across Southern California since late April.

Earlier this week, the LA County Department of Beaches & Harbors announced on Twitter that county beaches would reopen Wednesday (May 13) for recreational activities such as swimming, surfing, walking and running. Bike paths and boardwalks are to remain closed during the first phase of reopening the shoreline; loitering or sunbathing is not allowed and face masks as well as six feet physical distancing are required.

Argonaut editor Christina Campodonico contributed to this report.