Enchanting 'secret light of the sea' goes on exhibit at the Birch

The Birch Aquarium in La Jolla will unveil a new exhibit Friday that features the “secret light of the sea,” a phrase used to describe a phenomenon known as bioluminescence.

Many marine creatures — everything from fish and squid to bacteria, worms and algae — produce flashes of blue-green light due to their body chemistry.

The phenomenon can be especially beautiful at night when the ocean is experiencing a red tide. Such tides can contain a type of algae that really lights things up, particularly inside breaking waves.

The movement of the waves helps to trigger the light produced by the organisms.

The new exhibit at the Birch was created by artist Iyvone Khoo and by Michael Latz, a bioluminescence expert at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which runs the aquarium.

Khoo videotaped some of the bioluminescence research that occurs in Latz’s lab. She used the vibrations from music — and from a beating heart — to help trigger the flashes of light. Khoo projects footage of the light on the inside and the exterior of an 8’ by 8’ box known as the Infinity Cube.

Visitors can walk inside the dark, translucent cube and see bioluminescence flashing all around them.

“I first saw bioluminescence on the Pacific Coast of Mexico and found it amazing,” Khoo said. “I re-imagined the phenomenon by showing it in the Cube.”

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