2005-10-28 / Front Page

Ocean Glows In The Dark

By Brian Magoolaghan

A rare and mysterious ocean phenomenon lit up parts of Rockaway’s shoreline with a strange glow last weekend, leaving those who observed it scratching their heads in amazement and wondering how to explain it to others.

Some witnesses told The Wave that it looked like neon lights, others said fluorescence or blue-green iridescence. One person described waves that looked like a white t-shirt under a black-light. That person quickly added that he was not “stoned” when he saw, well, what he saw.

Several residents in the Dayton buildings said that they noticed the strange light coming from the ocean water on Friday evening and thought initially that there must be a full moon. But when no bright light could be seen in the sky, they wondered just what they were seeing – and began to doubt themselves.

“When the waves broke it looked like there were lights under the waves – like it had a blue-green iridescent light under it,” said Sandee Doremus, who went up to the boardwalk to see for herself after a friend called her to tell her about it.

“Before you say anything, I am not drunk!” the friend told Doremus, who observed the light phenomenon with six other people for about an hour and a half.

Katie Venticinque, who had a front-row view from her residence on Ocean Promenade, said the usually white wave crests were glowing blue and the smaller waves were green. The light, she said, reminded her of the display on a cell phone.

Rockaway Park resident Barry Glasser said he spotted the light when he was walking his dog on the beach with a friend.

“The foam part of the wave was just beautiful neon iridescent blue,” said Glasser, who was at first puzzled. “I looked up for the moon; no moon.”

His friend, worried that something was afoul, ran off the beach.

Glasser described how his footprints lit up in the sand as he walked along the shore. “And this is real,” he marveled.

Robert Gallagher, who lives at 8800 Shore Front Parkway, gave the following testimony: “As the waves crashed, what would normally be white was neon green.” He and the others he was with tried to determine a cause though process of elimination.

Former Coast Guardsman Danny Ruscillo and his son noticed the ocean glow at about 12:15 a.m. Saturday.

“When I was in the Coast Guard you would only see it in deeper water when the bow of the cutter would break a wave. It would cause the plankton to light up,” he told The Wave.

Indeed, research indicates that plankton, actually bioluminescent algae that is a component of plankton, was the source of the mysterious light. The algae emit light when disturbed, whether it be by the bow of a boat, the break of a wave or even a footstep in the sand. Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory’s Marine Meteorology Division, who have used satellites to track another light phenomenon known as “milky sea,” were not available to comment for this story. A spokesperson said milky sea – very large pockets of water that glow because they contain a dense population of bacterial bioluminescence – only happens in deep water and was not at work in Rockaway last weekend.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Protection said they investigated and determined that the glow was caused by a natural phenomenon, and that there was no potential for harm.

Ruscillo, who appeared to be on the mark with his plankton hypothesis, said he hadn’t witnessed the phenomenon since 1973. He tried unsuccessfully – as did several others – to capture the stunning glow on film, but his camcorder footage was too dark; Venticinque’s still photos were either under or over-exposed; others found that their cell phone cameras were not suited for shooting in extreme low light conditions.

In the end, people’s descriptions of what they saw seemed more vivid than a vague snapshot could ever be, and their inability to capture an image has only added to the event’s mystique.

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I'm so glad I saw this article. I live in a high rise on Shore Front Parkway and I also saw this phenomenon. It was really beautiful to see from the upper floors of the building. Suddenly the dark sea would light up in beautiful blues and greens as the waves broke all along the Rockaway shores. I tried to take a picture of it but it didn't come out as spectacular as it looked to the naked eye. Living here in Rockaway and experiencing all the natural wonders of this place never seizes to amaze me. I don't know if anyone else noticed but during the daytime hours of that same Friday, the ocean had a red hue to it at the shoreline.

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