Mareel - lights from the sea

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Mareel - lights from the sea

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Greetings from a surprisingly sunny Shetland Office.

The seas around Shetland have been rather wild of late.  There were some large February gales, building up a swell, whipping up sea spray and some really high tides - it felt like the islands had sunk.  After the gales passed, the sea still remained quite lumpy which was great for the surfers. It's also been good for gardeners as loads of seaweed has been ripped from the seabed and discarded on the shore.   Unfortunately, there's also a lot more rubbish washed ashore.  The sheer amount of plastic in the sea is shameful. 

On the way back from work on Thursday, I went to West Voe.  It was around 6pm, just light enough to see contrasts rather than colours.  As I reached the exit of the beach, I noticed something very small and very green at my feet.  I got down onto my knees to inspect.  There were a few tiny green glowing lights in the sand.  I soon realised that what I was seeing is what we in Shetland call "Mareel" - bioluminscence.  The green was like that of traffic lights, coating grains of sand.   I returned a handful of sand to the sea, but the froth was too thick for me to see what happened. 

As well as feeling like the luckiest person on earth to have happened across this tiny natural wonder, I also felt surprise.   I've only seen mareel in late summer in the eastern waters of Shetland, swishing my hand through the sea watching an underwater firework display. I'll have to read up on plankton to learn more about these amazing little plants and animals.

Often when I think about protecting the sea, I think about the more obvious living things - seabirds, fish, coral, cetaceans and so on.   This serendipitous find on my local beach served as a wee reminder about how mustn't forget life less noticable.  The sea is brilliant.

Now, roll in spring so I can get in for a paddle.

Best wishes from 60North


  • Hi abunni - thanks for the comment.  

    Shetland is well worth visiting in May, particularly to see seabirds.    The RSPB Date With Nature at Sumburgh Head opens late May, so pop up to see us if you make it.  


  • That is quite a story, what a lucky thing to have been in the right place at the right time.  I am hoping to pay a visit to the Shetlands on my next visit to the UK starting in May.  Somewhere I have long wanted to see.  Maybe I will be lucky enough to see this wonderous phenomenon too.  Thank you for posting this Helen.