Reef Madness

Deep beneath the waves, scientists are finding corals that glow in the dark.

June 25, 2015

Beyond the scope of most scuba gear, more than 160 feet beneath the Red Sea, researchers are shedding light on some very mysterious mesophotic corals. Thanks to better dive technology, a team from the University of Southampton and Tel Aviv University has found corals that fluoresce bright yellow, green, orange, and red.

Scientists think shallow water corals use fluorescence as a sort of sunscreen, but finding organisms that glow even more intensely so deep down, where little sunlight penetrates, was surprising. After all, there’s not much point in slathering on Coppertone in the dark, so it’s likely that the fluorescence serves a different biological purpose at these depths. The corals might be able to help us out on land, too—scientists say their fluorescent proteins may have medical applications in biomedical imaging, drug screening, or even tracking cancer cells.

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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