Snorkel Adventures

The sun is shining (most days) and the water has warmed up, so ideal conditions for a bit of snorkeling. I have been out at my usual spot in Falmouth (rockpools and kelp forest) and my local beach in Flushing (seagrass) (and yes, I really count myself lucky every time that l live here!). The last couple of times I have brought my son along, as he is now old enough (nine). He is a nature freak just like his dad, actually probably more so! I need to get him fins and a weight belt soon, but he has been doing fine in the water already.

The photos above and below illustrate the state of the rock pools at the moment: quite brownish with the Sargassum and Himanthalia growing everywhere. The red, pink and purple species have largely disappeared (apart from Harpoon weed) and there is quite a bit of green Ulva growing. The water teems with juvenile pollack in the rock pools and schools of sand eels a bit further out. Diving over sandy patches, you can see the latter species shooting out of the sand en masse. It is crazy how such a silvery pelagic fish can also burrow in the sand. I guess it does take its toll, as there are quite some dead ones to be seen too.

The Flushing snorkel site is very different, no (deep) rockpools, only a little bit of kelp but with a very healthy patch of seagrass. No catsharks or thornback rays when we went in, just the odd small sea bass. There are many small Snakelocks anemones on the seagrass. I used to think that it was mostly the purple form that did this but I now noticed that most were the green variety, so the morphs do not seem to differ in this respect after all. One anemone had ‘caught’ a crystal jellyfish (an Aequorea medusa). Not sure if it was in the process of being digested or just ‘stuck’.

I have played around with my new INON strobe, which works a lot better than my old strobe. I have ordered a second one for Wide Angle photos too….(as you can see there is quite some backscatter in the pic of the Shore Crab above). I will need to get back to some shore diving to make optimal use of two strobes, as I am too lousy a freediver to get the lighting and exposure right in one breath!

new strobe

Long time no post! Due to a combination of not-so-good weather and work I have not been in the water much the last few months. I attempted some seaweed photography but most times the viz was bad; the one time the conditions were great, somehow all my photos turned out to be a bit meh and I could not be bothered to post them. (For some older shots on seaweed diversity see here, and many older posts as well.) Anyhow, my exciting news is that I finally bought a new strobe (an INON D-200 for those who are interested) because my old Sea&Sea strobes just proved to be too temperamental. Something I should have done a long time ago, but the thrifty Dutchman in me just never pulled the trigger. I have now taken it out twice this weekend and it works like a charm! Now I just need to practice, as it is actually still very hard to go from an OK photo to a truly good pic. Above a shot of a baby urchin Psammechinus miliaris. The true stars of the weekend however were nudibranchs.

A very special find (shown to me by fellow rockpool photography enthusiasts Martin and Greg) were two Goby egg-eating seaslugs Calma gobioophaga. This tiny species can only be found on the goby eggs it eats. With such a ‘niche niche’ and with very good camouflage it is no wonder that reports of this species are rare. A fun fact: its protein-rich diet means it does not have to poo and it therefore does not have an anus…The rock with the eggs and nudis was very shallow and so it was a challenge to get the port of the camera housing under water. Luckily Greg assisted with pointing out the nudi and holding my strobe in place. Freshly hatched goby fry could be seen hovering above the eggs (the fact that a predator was munching through their brothers and sisters might have triggered some of the hatching). The cerata (the fleshy lobes on the nudi’s back) seem to have two goby eyes in them to make them better blend in!

Finally, two other nudibranch species, neither very colourful. Both are predators of anemones: first the largish Grey sea slug Aeolidia papillosa and second the smaller species Aeolidiella alderi. Both adequate shots but I need to practice to make them truly good. I will probably buy a second INON strobe so I can practice wide angle shots as well when diving. I hope to go out a lot more during summer and will make sure to post here about my finds and progress!

Macro

The weather has been horrible lately, with three storms coming in straight after each other. On the upside this means that there is good potential for beachcombing, but alas, the one beach on the North Coast we checked was as clean as a whistle, just sand! So here are some photos from a few weeks back when the weather was good better. On top a Spotted Kaleidoscope Jellyfish (Haliclystus octoradiatus), about 15 mm across, on some Irish Moss seaweed. Please see this site for more information on these beauties; there are several species in our rockpools, but you have to develop a bit of an eye for them! Some other pics below: Blue-rayed Limpets (Patella pellucida) on kelp and a Thicklipped Dogwhelk (Tritia incrassata (when I was young Nassarius incrassatus…). Still need a lot of practice with the strobe, these shots I was very happy with, but most were way off the mark somehow. Looking forward to spring!

Candelabrum cocksii

It was a nice day and a good low tide last Wednesday and so I decided to go for a snorkel; I was glad I did! Last year, I had been trying to take photos of this weird little animal, Candelabrum cocksii, but failed miserably, this time it worked. It is a hydrozoan that was first described in Victorian times on the exact beach I always go snorkelling here in Falmouth. It is tiny (see last pic) and lives underneath rocks, so it goes mostly unnoticed (and therefore does not have a common name). To take this photo, I had to do some ‘underwater rockpooling’, turning over a rock to find them. I am not sure what the deal is with these guys; I know the white bulbous structures at the bottom are reproductive structures, and the reddish bit at the top is for feeding (this bit can be stretched out quite a lot). It is colonial just like the Portuguese Man O’War. Please correct me if I am wrong hydrozoan experts! Shout out to David Fenwick and his ID site aphotomarine.com, which I highly recommend.

Other notable finds were stalked jellyfish Calvadosia cruxmelitensis and my very first Wentletrap (which is a Dutch word: wenteltrap=spiral staircase) Epitonium clathrus. As I had my macrolens on the camera I could not shoot any general impressions but the pools started to look beautiful again. The big Wireweed and Thong weed plants were all gone (new ones emerging) and the red seaweeds (Sphaerococcus, Plocamium, Chylocladia) were already quite big.

It was great to be back in the water today and it is my New Year’s resolution to spend a lot more time underwater than I did in 2021! Who knows I will even learn how to use strobes. A happy 2022 to all blog readers!

Muddy Adventures

I went to the foreshore of our village with my son (9y) a week ago as he is always keen on some bare-handed eel catching. No pretty rock pools in this estuarine site, just mud, rubble, worms, oysters and sponges. Also Velvet Swimming Crabs (Necora puber) (named Devil Crabs locally as they are quite pinchy) and Rock Gobies (Gobius paganellus). I tried my hand at some TSCFWANF (Top Side Close Focus Wide Angle No Flash). This obviously resulted in a blown out sky. Next time I will try to use a home-made (milk container) softbox for a strobe to light up the foreground. Have not been in the water much, so long time no post. Hope to do some snorkelling or diving soon, weather permitting…

Summer Seaweeds

Snorkeling in summer is nice because it is sunny and warm, but the seaweeds are turning a bit manky. That has its charms too though!

Above: Furbelows Saccorhiza polyschides. Middle: Thong Weed Himanthalia elongata covered in epiphytes (Ceramium?). Bottom: seaweed assemblage with Red Rags Dilsea carnosa, Irish Moss Chondrus crispus, Forkweed Dictyota dichotoma, Harpoon Weed Asparagopsis armata, Sea Lettuce Ulva lactuca and other species.

Darwin’s Brain Coral

A brain coral. On land. In Cornwall.

Half hidden under the subtropical shrubs in the Penjerrick ‘jungle garden’, this moss-covered coral is believed to have been a gift from Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle, the ship that sailed Charles Darwin around the world for almost five years.

The Beagle landed here in Falmouth the 2nd of October 1836, but Darwin did not bother to stay around and immediately caught the Royal Mail coach back to Shrewsbury.

P.S. A rare occasion I could put my fisheye lens to use on land!

Compass Jellies

Some more jellies, this time the Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella. These are currently the most common jellyfish here in Falmouth, with blue jellies and moon jellies also spotted (the Crystal Jellies, see below, seem to have disappeared). These photos were made without a strobe (my struggle with them continues…) which would have made them much better. As it stands, I have relied heavily on the standard Windows Photo editor to reduce the green hue and get rid of some of the highlights. I might give the old strobes a go next time I go in!

Crystal Jellies

Photography during my last snorkel was a bit frustrating as I could not get my strobes to work. Luckily I was saved by a subject that did not require any extra light: beautiful translucent crystal jellies slowly pulsating near the surface. Crystal jellyfish are not true jellyfish (these belong in the Class Scyphozoa), but hydromedusae (Class Hydrozoa) which have a polyp stage in their lifecycle that bud of these sexual medusae. They are difficult to identify to species level so I keep it to Aequorea sp. I saw a few, around 10 cm in diameter, and had fun diving under them and get them in front of the afternoon sun.

Snorkeling with Blue Sharks

Last Tuesday I went on a boat trip with BlueSharkSnorkel departing from Penzance. The Celtic Fox took us an hour out from the coast. On the way we were greated by Common Dolphins and a small Sunfish sped past as well. (Being in the water with a big Sunfish would be an amazing experience!) After some chumming and mackerel fishing it was time to wait for the sharks. There was quite a bit of swell and I felt a bit seasick! Finally, the plastic bottle tied to a hookless line with mackerel bait started to bob up and down, announcing the presence of the first Blue Shark (Prionace glauca). After giving the shark(s) some time to get settled around the boat we slid in. Two sharks around my size appeared and disappeared. I did not pay attention to their sex, but at least one had small wounds on its back which could suggest it is a female (the males bite when mating). They had some parasites too. The sharks came up to about a metre from us but remained relatively wary, so I did not get any close up shots unfortunately. The pic above came out OK, it gives a nice impression of the blueness of the shark and their pelagic habitat. This was my second Blue Shark experience (see this old post) and hope to go look for them again some time!