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Theme parks mimic nature’s bioluminescent glow

Bioluminescence, the sparkly glow that lights up the ocean and local rivers, is coming to a theme park near you. Both Walt Disney World and SeaWorld have unveiled plans to use technology to create nature’s glittery display.

Walt Disney World will offer a ride down a river in a bioluminescent rain forest called the Na’vi River Journey at Pandora, Animal Kingdom’s newest land. Electric Ocean will debut next summer at SeaWorld parks in Orlando and San Diego with bioluminescent lighting and music “immersing guests in a glowing sea of wonder,” according to a SeaWorld spokesman.

The theme parks are mimicking the natural phenomenon marine organisms use to confuse predators, find a mate or light up the area so they can attract prey.

“To see the real thing in the natural setting is very different than what you’ll see at a theme park,” said Ashley Covart, lead tour guide at A Day Away Kayak Tours in Titusville. “A lot of people say it looks like the stars, some think it resembles fairy dust. We just had an 8-year-old kid say ‘it’s like I’m holding the stars in my hands.’ ”

Bioluminescence occurs through a chemical reaction that produces light energy within an organism’s body. Some fish light up to attract prey, while some types of squid shoot out bioluminescent liquid, instead of ink, to confuse their predators. Worms and tiny crustaceans use bioluminescence to attract mates.

Humans can watch the sparkly sheen of bioluminescence when it’s triggered by a physical disturbance, such as the ocean’s waves or a boat moving through the water.

During the cooler months from October through March, bioluminescent comb jellyfish congregate in the Indian River Lagoon. And in the heat of the summer, the river is alive with microscopic dinoflagellates, marine plankton that live in fresh water. Covart said thousands participate in their bioluminescent tours during the busy season summer and hundreds take the kayak tours in the winter at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. She said the tours and the theme parks’ new bioluminescent attractions should raise awareness of how important sea life is to sustaining our ecosystem.

In October, Brevard County voters passed a half-cent sales tax per dollar to pay for the cleanup of muck and algae, which kills many sea creatures like plankton, in the Indian River Lagoon. The tax, which begins Jan. 1, is expected to raise $302 million during the next 10 years.

Written By

The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.

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