Matsu’s “blue tears,” usually visible from April to September, were sighted as late as October this year due to a surprising reason: Chinese dredging, an ecologist said on Thursday.
Illegal dredging near Lienchiang County has kicked up nutrients and phytoplankton from the ocean floor, providing a favorable environment for the bioluminescent algae, also known as sea sparkle, a research team led by National Taiwan Ocean University professor Chiang Kuo-ping (蔣國平) has found.
The Matsu archipelago has in the past few years attracted many tourists who want to experience the blue tears, which have even made a CNN list of the top 15 natural scenic wonders of the world.
Photo courtesy of the Lienchiang County Government
Although sea sparkle might be seen throughout the spring and summer, its appearance relies on a number of criteria, Chiang said.
The algae require warm water ranging from 15°C to 24°C, making the late spring and early summer the optimal viewing time, he said.
However, it does not appear if the moon is too bright, or if the wind, currents, tide or topography is unsuitable, he added.
Research has shown that the bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon that originates in the Min River in China’s Fujian Province, Chiang said.
From April to June every year, runoff from melted snow flows down the swollen Min River, bringing with it inorganic nutrients such as nitrogen, silicon and phosphorus that phytoplankton feeds on, he said.
Of these phytoplankton that multiply with the influx of nutrients, diatoms are a main food source for the algae responsible for blue tears, he added.
The algae reproduce quickly due to this abundance of food, resulting in an algal bloom and the sea sparkle phenomenon, Chiang said.
Once the high-water season ends on the Min River, diatoms become less abundant and the bioluminescent algae fade along with it, he said.
This year, the blue tears were particularly plentiful — even into October — because of the nutrients dredged up from the ocean floor by Chinese vessels, Chiang said.
University president Hsu Tai-wen (許泰文) said that researchers at the school have found ways to cultivate sea sparkle, allowing visitors to view the phenomenon year-round at the Blue Tears Ecological Museum on Matsu’s Nangan Island (南竿).
The university in October established the Matsu Ocean Research Center dedicated to the research of marine environments and related industries, Hsu said.
The center is currently working on developing a smartphone app that would forecast when the blue tears are likely to appear, he added.
Lienchiang County Commissioner Liu Tseng-ying (劉增應) said that it is not easy to catch the blue tears, but if the conditions are right, it is an unforgettable experience.
The county council is working with the university on research and education related to sea sparkle, Liu said, adding that he is looking forward to a future in which visitors would know the right time to catch a glimpse of the blue tears.
A series of discussions on the legacy of martial law and authoritarianism are to be held at the Taipei International Book Exhibition this month, featuring findings and analysis by the Transitional Justice Commission. The commission and publisher Book Republic organized the series, entitled “Escaping the Nation’s Labyrinth of Memory: What Authoritarian Symbols and Records Can Tell Us,” to help people navigate narratives through textual analysis and comparisons with other nations. The four-day series is to begin on Thursday next week with a discussion between commission Chairwoman Yang Tsui (楊翠), Polish-language translator Lin Wei-yun (林蔚昀), and Polish author and artist Pawel Gorecki comparing
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