“It stopped me in my tracks, and I knew right then that I wanted to capture it.”

By Meghan Overdeep
October 13, 2020
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Photographer Wes Snyder finally managed to capture one of the Outer Banks’ most mysterious phenomena last week.

Snyder told McClatchy News that he has been obsessed with the rare “glowing waves” off Cape Hatteras for the past two years—ever since one night while photographing the Milky Way, when he looked down “to see nothing but beautiful blue waves.”

Unable to get a good photo, he returned to the same beach again and again over the next two years, hoping the bioluminescent waves would return.

Last week, his persistence paid off, and Snyder was finally able to document the glowing blue waves. He shared the haunting photos on Facebook.

“It’s quite an amazing thing to witness,” Snyder wrote alongside the now-viral snaps taken off Coquina Beach at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

According to the National Park Service, the blue color is likely caused by microscopic dinoflagellate plankton floating in the water. Bioluminescence is the byproduct of the plankton making their own food using photosynthesis. The plankton, though typically found in tropical waters, can be swept farther north in the right conditions.

“I was definitely stunned. ... It’s quite an amazing thing to witness,” Snyder told McClatchy News. “It appears that the crashing waves are extra white and glowing. It lights up as the waves crash. It stopped me in my tracks, and I knew right then that I wanted to capture it.”

Snyder says the waves are “common knowledge” among locals, but even long-time residents say they can’t predict when and where they will appear.

“It seems to be at completely random times,” he told McClatchy News. “To be able to actually get blue waves is quite rare. ... I’ve only been able to capture blue waves a handful of times. The unpredictability of it really makes it hard and challenging. But to me as a photographer, that’s what I live for, and why I love being a photographer.”