I have read that many aquatic plants found in deep oceans are red in colour, however, I do not understand why. As red is the color which gets the least scattered it should be the only light available to them. Thus reflecting red light would deprive them of any light. Yet they appear to be in red color. Why is this so?

  • $\begingroup$ Would there even BE plants in the deep oceans, since there isn't enough light for photosynthesis below 100-200 meters? NOAA explains why many deep ocean animals are red: oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/red-color.html $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Dec 31 '16 at 5:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Deepakms you say I have read that [...] Can you please link to your source (even if it is not a peer-review paper)? $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Dec 31 '16 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ Is the red Colour the physical appearance or satellite imagery? $\endgroup$ – Chimango Chisuwo Dec 31 '16 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Remi.b I read it in Class 12 NCERT Biology book, chapter on ecology. $\endgroup$ – Anubhav Goel Jan 6 '17 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ Certainly,it was from NCERT. Also it is not just any plant ,but the algae. $\endgroup$ – Deepak M S Jan 20 '17 at 17:44

You're right that certain wavelengths of light are more capable of penetrating deeper depths of water. However, it turns out, blue light typically travels to deeper depths than all other visible wavelengths of light (and red light does not travel deeply at all).


See my previous SE answer for more details about plant coloration due to this phenomenon.

So that leaves the question of why are these plants red?

Plant life itself cannot exist without the ability to photosynthesize, so actually no plants exist beyond a few hundred meters down. And in fact, many of these plants are still green (e.g., see here and here).

However, some red algae represent an example of a red "plant" that can live fairly deep. According to the University of California-Berkeley:

red algae are red, "because of the presence of the pigment phycoerythrin; this pigment reflects red light and absorbs blue light. Because blue light penetrates water to a greater depth than light of longer wavelengths, these pigments allow red algae to photosynthesize.


Interestingly, this 'reddening' phenomenon is shared by many deep sea organisms, though more often for the sake of protection from predation.

Red light does not reach ocean depths, so deep-sea animals that are red actually appear black and thus are less visible to predators and prey.

See this NOAA page for more:

All objects that are not transparent or translucent either absorb or reflect nearly all of the light that strikes them. When struck by white light (containing all colors), a red fish reflects red light and absorbs all other colors.

The deeper you and the fish go, the less red the fish will appear, because there is less and less red light to reflect off of the fish. At 100 meters, red light does not penetrate and, at this depth, a red fish is difficult, if not impossible to see. Instead, the fish appears blackish because there is no red light to reflect at that depth and the fish absorbs all other wavelengths of color.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Nice answer. Just a correction: algae, specifically Rhodophyta, are not plants. $\endgroup$ – user24284 Feb 22 '17 at 7:37
  • $\begingroup$ @theforestecologistTHANKS,for the answer;but I didn't understand why blue is able to penetrate better.Could you please explain it? $\endgroup$ – Deepak M S Feb 22 '17 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. I know it's more complicated than that, I taught phylogenetic systematics for 20 years... We can always create a bigger monophyletic group by adding sister groups but, if we take this trend too far away, Plantae becomes the same of Eukaryota! I like to keep Plantae as synonym of Embryophyta, I particularly don't like Viridiplantae, let alone including the Rodophyta... $\endgroup$ – user24284 Feb 22 '17 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ BTW, if you want to explain to OP why blue is able to better penetrate water, the reason is water absorbs light at 605, 660 and 760 nm: dartmouth.edu/~etrnsfer/water.htm $\endgroup$ – user24284 Feb 22 '17 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Gerardo fair. And I tend to side with you. I've updated my answer to at least aknowledge this :p. I'll let these comments serve the purpose of further acknowledging this point so as not to distract from my answer (which extends beyond plants anyway). And thanks for the dartmouth link. $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Feb 22 '17 at 13:35

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