Scientists Discover ‘Glowing’ Sea Turtle in the Pacific

Scientists Discover ‘Glowing’ Sea Turtle in the Pacific


A news story from CNN says that marine biologists had a stunning encounter with a “glowing” sea turtle while filming small sharks and coral reefs in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific.

An image capture of a biofluorescent sea turtle near the Solomon Islands. (Photo from: The National Geographic)

An image capture of a biofluorescent sea turtle near the Solomon Islands.
(Photo from: The National Geographic)

Scientists captured footage of a hawksbill sea turtle emitting neon green and red light. The discovery was made in late July by David Gruber of the City University of New York and his team. The footage was released for the first time on Monday.

Gruber, an emerging explorer for National Geographic, described the turtle as an alien spaceship when he initially saw it swimming in the water.

“It was absolutely gorgeous,” Gruber said in an interview with CNN. The turtle swam into the team’s lights while they were filming coral underwater. The turtle’s appearance was unexpected and took everyone by surprise, he said.

In just a few years, scientists have started to pay more attention to biofluorescence in marine species.

“It’s a bit like a mystery novel,” Gruber said. “It started with jellyfish and coral, and the fluorescent molecules jellyfish and coral create has lead to monumental breakthroughs in biomedical science.”

Fluorescence has helped provide a marker for scientists to see the inner workings of cells and that has partially lead to an explosion in research in the biofluorescence field, Gruber explained.

Finding a reptile that exhibits biofluorescence opens up a new set of questions: Why is a turtle emitting light? What is the chemical composition?

The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle is the first reptile scientists have seen exhibiting biofluorescence—the ability to reflect the blue light hitting a surface and re-emit it as a different color. The most common colors are green, red, and orange.

Biofluorescence is different from bioluminescence, in which animals either produce their own light through a series of chemical reactions, or host bacteria that give off light.

Corals fluoresce, and recent research has found the ability in a number of fish, sharks, rays, tiny crustaceans called copepods, and mantis shrimp. But researchers never expected to find it in a marine reptile.

(Read the full story on CNN and related report in National Geographic.)

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