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  • Writer's pictureGabriella Walker

The Northern Lights of the sea: Bioluminescence in Norfolk's coastal waters

Since we moved to Norfolk back in 2021, I’ve been lucky to experience some of the most incredible natural wonders. I’ve done a lot of travelling in my 30-something years but nothing compares to what we’ve experience in Norfolk right on our doorstep.

Earlier this year, we spotted an amazing photograph on Instagram of the The Northern Lights in North Norfolk, captured by the incredibly talented Gary Pearson. We’d been lucky enough to see The Northern Lights before on our travels to Iceland but never in a million years did I expect to find them floating across the skies of Norfolk, literally minutes from our house. I love an adventure though and knew we had to try our luck at finding them for ourselves the next night. Armed with the Aurora Watch app, we snuggled inside waiting for the notification to come through that magnetic activity was close by. You’ve never seen me run as fast for my coat and the door as when that app pinged!

It might have lost all feeling in my hands it was that cold but oh my goodness, it was worth it! They were brighter than anything we saw in Iceland and the magic of Norfolk was just reaffirmed to me that night.

So when I got a message a few months back from one of our amazing Instagram followers telling us about some very rare but absolutely incredible bioluminescence in the waters off the Norfolk Coast that they’d seen as a teenager, I knew one day I had to see it for myself. What I wasn't expecting was that I’d see it far sooner than I thought.

On Friday 9th September, bioluminescence was spotted in the waters at Gorleston. We couldn’t make it to Gorleston until the Sunday evening and all the way driving there I was so disappointed, thinking we would have already missed it and that I’d be waiting years to experience it for myself.

Norfolk’s magic delivered yet again though and OH MY GOODNESS it was incredible. It wasn’t blue like you’ll have seen on videos of luminescent waters. More like beautiful white dancing stars.

When we got into the sea at 8.30pm in the pitch black, I genuinely thought it’d gone and we’d missed it. Swimming out a little further though and little sparkles started to appear with every swim stroke. The most captivating display of light and one of the most enchanting and magical experiences of my life. I didn’t want to leave the North Sea last night. It was a mesmerising spectacle that I’m never going to forget.

After seeing it for myself last night, I’ve been geeking out all day on bioluminescence and what it is. So in case you’re a nerd like me, here’s the sciency bit…..

What is bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence is a chemical process that occurs in select marine organisms, allowing them to emit a mesmerising light. This remarkable natural phenomenon has evolved in various species, including certain types of plankton, jellyfish, and fish. These creatures possess specialised cells called photophores or utilise light-producing molecules like luciferin and luciferase. When combined with oxygen, these substances create a luminous glow. You’ll be pleased to know it wasn’t jellyfish that I saw dancing with light last night though…..just plankton!

If you’re keen to experience bioluminescence in Norfolk for yourself, here’s the details:

Last night’s location into the water from Gorleston beach: what3words ///composers.lunge.adjuster

I don’t know how likely it is that it’ll still be there (I think we were exceptionally lucky for it be there two nights after it was first discovered) so if you do miss out this time, here’s the details on when you’re most likely to encounter it:

Summer months: Bioluminescence is most commonly seen during the summer months, when the water temperature rises, and phytoplankton populations flourish.

Late evening to early morning: The optimal time for witnessing bioluminescence is during the late evening to early morning hours when the darkness accentuates the luminous spectacle.

Near a new moon: It’s darkest then so you’re more likely to see the beautiful luminosity shine.


I didn’t think I could love Norfolk any more than I already did until last night, but it just keeps on surprising me. It really is the most incredible place and I’m so lucky to call it home.


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