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The Secret Fluorescent Beauty of Reef Life

By Leonard Ho - Posted Mar 22, 2013 08:00 AM
Coral reefs are renowned for their vibrant colors when observed under full spectrum lighting. But by using special light filters to view fluorescence, we can gain greater appreciation for reef life's awesome, secret pigmentations.
The Secret Fluorescent Beauty of Reef Life

A hermit crab seen in a whole new way!

We're not talking just about corals, which every reefkeeper already knows about.  Fish, cephalopods, crustaceans, tunicates, sponges, cowries, nudibranchs, flatworms, algae, and all forms of sea life emit other-worldly biofluorescence.

With the aid of special photography equipment (blue light + barrier filters), we can view these animals like never before.  All the neon colors you see in this night dive video by Jeff Honda are 100% real.  The ocean is truly an amazing, alien world!


What is fluorescence?

Adam Blundell, M.S. writes about 'The Seen and Unseen World of Coral Fluorescence' in Advanced Aquarist's June, 2005 issue:

Fluorescence is a process whereby a matter of energy is absorbed by a substance, and then released by that substance with less energy. In this case a light source of high energy (lets say blue light) is absorbed by a substance (a coral) and then released with less energy (i.e. green light or red light).

Dana Riddle writes what may be the most comprehensive series of articles on coral coloration & fluorescence:


  1. Coral Coloration: Fluorescence: Part 1
  2. Coral Coloration, Part 2: Fluorescence: Pigments 510 - 565 and Notes on Green Fluorescent Proteins
  3. Coral Coloration, Part 3: Pigments Responsible for
  4. Coral Coloration, Part 4: Red Fluorescent Pigments, a Preliminary Report of Effects of Various Environmental Factors and Color Mixing
  5. Coral Coloration, Part 5: Non-fluorescent Chromoproteins (CP-480 to CP-562)
  6. Coral Coloration, Part 6: Non-fluorescent Chromoproteins (CP-568 – CP-610) And A Newly Discovered Colorant
  7. Coral Coloration - Part 7: Coral Reflectance, Chromoproteins and Environmental Factors Affecting Non-fluorescent Pigmentation
  8. Coral Coloration, Part 8: Blue and Green Coral Fluorescence: Environmental Factors Affecting Fluorescent Pigmentation
  9. Coral Coloration, Part 9: Tridacna and Other Photosynthetic Clam Coloration, With Observations on Possible Functions

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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