By RR Helm | Deep Sea News
When I first saw a sea sapphire I thought I was hallucinating. The day had been anything but normal, but this part will always stand out. I’d spent the afternoon on a small dingy off the coast of Durban, South Africa. It was muggy, and I’d been working for hours–-throwing a small net out, and pulling in tiny hauls of plankton that I’d then collect in jars. As I looked through one jar, the boat rocking up and down, I saw for an instant a bright blue flash. Gone. Then again in a different place. An incredible shade of blue. Maybe I’d been in the sun too long? Maybe I was seeing things? It wasn’t until I got back to the lab that I discovered the true beauty and mystery of these radiant flashes.
I’d like you to meet one of the most beautiful animals I’ve ever seen:
The small creature I’d found was a Sapphirina copepod, or as I like to call it, a sea sapphire. Copepods are the rice of the sea, tiny shrimp-like animals at the base of the ocean food chain. And like rice, they are generally not known for their charisma. Sea sapphires are an exception. Though they are often small, a few millimeters, they are stunningly beautiful. Like their namesake gem, different species of sea sapphire shine in different hues, from bright gold to deep blue. Africa isn’t the only place they can be found. I’ve since seen them off the coasts of Rhode Island and California. When they’re abundant near the water’s surface the sea shimmers like diamonds falling from the sky. Japanese fisherman of old had a name for this kind of water, “tama-mizu”, jeweled water.
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