Oceans of Opportunity

Creatures of Light | a Review

When you’re living it, it’s hard to embrace or even recognize how much staying power any given theme or related product will have, particularly when it’s your job to consistently produce – always on the go, and always on to the next. A few things seem come up routinely in discussion – the deep sea, sharks, taking photos, and so on. Recently, I’ve noticed the topic of bioluminescence and biofluorescence or ‘Creatures of Light’ come up in rather casual conversation and it’s pretty exciting to see that this may have some staying power in the ocean conversation. That’s thanks to a few decades of interesting scientific discoveries being made, some tools developed for amateur light seeking enthusiasts, and a recent media push which includes the PBS NOVA film, Creatures of Light.

My first exposure to the world of underwater fluorescence was while working with Dr. Charlie Mazel, the founder of NIGHTSEA., during the early stages of developing his commercial blue light excitation filters and yellow viewing lenses for fluorescence exploration. The simple pair of tools illuminated the reefs at night, bringing an entirely new world into focus. The formula was actually pretty simple, wait til its dark, flip on a blue light like this…

The blue light excites proteins in the biological subject, which then emit light at a different wavelength. So, when you look at the subject through a lens like this…

the blue light is removed, and all you can see is the newly emitted ‘fluorescence’. The results were like seeing your favorite rock band poster under a black light – but from specialized proteins within the animals.

Fluorescing coral, from Nightsea.com.

While it does make night diving pretty cool and exciting, the practical applications of fluorescence are still emerging. Fluorescent imaging is now used in forensics, protein prospecting, non-destructive testing, and even microplastic detection. I became very interested in this concept of seeking out novel sources of fluorescence, and so found myself involved in several field studies and even a few commercial prospecting ventures. As it happens, fluorescent (and bioluminescent) proteins have a number of uses in the biotech and medical fields as biomarkers and for certain types of imaging. All very cool stuff, and critically important work to improve human health. Today, both field and laboratory fluorescence work takes place and with the potential to make any number of important scientific breakthroughs.

A decade and a half after first working on a few Nightsea projects, I was off again, though this time to the Solomon Islands with a group from the American Museum of Natural History to explore and document the covert world of biofluorescence (and bioluminescence) on the pristine reefs there in the Solomons. Interesting project with lots of backstory, but the point here today is to share the resulting documentary, Creatures of Light. Much of the filmwork was done during our AMNH expedition.

The film aired on Netflix for quite some time, and is now available on DVD…

The film includes exciting dives on pristine reefs, down deep in research submersibles, and offers a glimpse into the technology used to explore and study naturally occurring but biologically and chemically produced light in the ocean. The film is well produced for the lay ocean enthusiast, or for classroom use, and presents some of the importance and excitement for underwater fluorescence in an easy to understand way, and is among the few more recent films that highlight marine fieldwork. I think it’s a great film for the school bookshelf as a teaching resource.

The best part of the film is a split second view of my bald head at the back of the dive boat. If that doesn’t drive some sales, then I don’t know what will!

Keep your eyes out and open for similar ‘light’ related content as we put some custom tools to work over the next year or so. Just remember – just because a documentary film is made about a given topic, it doesn’t mean that the work is over…it many cases it is just beginning!

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