One of the most stunning scenes in Life of Pi in my humble opinion is how the night sea comes alive with thousands of lights. We are not discussing if some guy could possibly survive a boat trip with a hungry tiger, but … what about natural underwater lights?
The idea is not new at all. Already, in the 1959 release of Journey to the Center of Earth Count Saknussemm finds out during their descent that a luminescent algae renders artificial light unnecessary. In Avatar, they extend this property to trees and whatnot.
Avatar may be well over the line, but Life of Pi is not that far from reality. In fact, the glowing sea is a classic surfer’s favorite observed on a semi-regular basis since at least 1901 in San Diego. According to biologists, it is caused by a massive red tide of bioluminescent phytoplankton called Lingulodinium polyedrum. These thingies react to stress, caused by crashing waves, surf boards or someone splashing around, by emitting light, so this is probably the basis for Life of Pi.
Furthermore, not only there are indeed luminescent algae in the sea, but they can also be used to provide eco-friendly streetlight, as company FermentAlg has already proved. They have manufactured algae lamps that don’t require electricity. While there is daylight, the lamps recharge their batteries via photosynthesis. In fact, they are reported to absorb 150 to 200 times more CO2 than a tree. At night, they glow. A similar process has been employed by researchers at Stanford to obtain minuscule amounts of electricity from plant photosynthesis.
The most obvious drawback of these lamps, as anyone who ever owned a fish tank certainly knows, would be to keep tanks clean enough that they don’t go opaque. Until we get our city shining like Atlantis, Wikihow teaches us how to grow luminescent algae at home.