Raglans Reef

It has been a long time coming, but I finally managed to go on a boatdive to the Manacles this weekend. I rented my gear at Seaways in Penryn and got on board the Atlantic Scuba rib ‘Stingray’ in Mylor Marina. Nine divers were on board; I was teaming up with Thomas and his intern Andy from HydroMotionMedia (make sure to check out the revamped website), who are working on a documentary about Marine Conservation Zones (the Manacles are one). The Manacles are a group of rocks east of the Lizard peninsula about half an hour by boat from Mylor which historically have claimed many ship wrecks, and they form one of the best dive sites in the UK. The name is an anglicization from the Cornish ‘Meyn Eglos’, meaning church stones. It was a beautiful sunny morning, and when we were close we spotted several Common dolphins Delphinus delphis, who came up to the boat, an awesome start! At slack tide, we descended to about 18 meters to inspect the walls of Raglans reef, the outermost pinnacle of the Manacles group. For the first time, I saw many of the species I was familiar with only from the internet and books with my own eyes: Cuckoo wrasse, Dead men’s fingers (a soft coral), Ross coral (which is not a coral but a Bryozoan), enormous amounts of Feather stars (see this recent post when I found them first on holiday in France), Sun stars and of course the incredibly pretty Jewel anemones Corynactis viridis:The photos are OK but I could do a lot better, this was in part due to my camera malfunctioning for a bit and my dive was pretty short anyway, as I guzzled too much air (I need to do some sports and drink less beer!). Also, I need a lot more practice with video light and strobe. However, this dive was primarily about checking out the new scenery.  Some shots of other species below: the Edible sea urchin Echinus esculentus, Elegant anemone Sagartia elegans (variety rosea) and Dead men’s fingers Alcyonium digitatum. I hope to go back to the Manacles on the Stingray very soon!

Feather Stars in Bretagne

Last week I was on holiday in Bretagne (Brittany), France. There was not a lot of opportunity for snorkelling or rock pooling activities, but the last day I checked out the pontoons of the large marina in Trinité-sur-Mer. I was not disappointed; the pontoons in Cornwall are full of life, but these ones 200 or so kilometers further south were exceptionally diverse. The most striking find was that of orange, red and purple Rosy feather stars Antedon bifida. These also occur in the UK but I had not seen these yet here so I was quite excited. I did not go into the water myself and the photos I took holding my camera under ended up being not great so I took some shots from above water as well, too bad I did not have more time!The first photo below gives a good impression of how abundant and diverse life attached to these pontoons is. Many species are the same as the ones I see in Mylor marina, including invasive species such as the Bryozoan Bugula neritina and the tunicate Styela clavata. In addition to the many sponges, anemones, mussels, oysters and colonial tunicates I even saw things such as scallops (not sure which species) and urchins (Psammechinus). The peacock worms were absolutely huge. The plumose anemones Metridium senile looked different to the ones I am used to here to with orange individuals having brown collars which sometimes were really big and wavy. It seems no one that moors their boat in a marina ever takes notice of what is attached to the pontoons, but they should, as the diversity and beauty can almost rival coral reefs. I hope I can go back one time to properly investigate but for now I will check out the local marina’s and keep an eye out for feather stars…

Aquarium Update 17

I started this blog mainly to document keeping a temperate marine aquarium; browsing back I see that that was more than four years back already! (see this introduction). Over time, I became more passionate about rock pooling, snorkeling and diving, specifically about seaweeds and photography, and blogged less and less about my aquarium. The aquarium had its ups and downs, as coldwater aquariums tend to be a bit more trial and error (coldwater marine aquariums do not consist of relatively slow growing stony corals as in tropical marine aquariums and house much more (higher order) diversity than tropical or cold freshwater aquariums). Also, I am a lazy man. The last aquarium update was from last November and the aquarium did not look that great, but I have lately spend more time on it and it looks much better now, so here a quick new post.I bought an upgrade Red Sea Max pump (much better) a while back, and more recently a Tunze 9001 skimmer (MUCH better than the stock skimmer, removed  years ago as it was so noisy). The only problem is that the pump is so powerful that the water does not get sucked fast enough in the back compartment and it starts to run dry, I need to think how to fix that. The water is very clear though. I only have Cornish suckers as fish at the moment, and it might not be safe to add other fish as there are quite a few anemones at the moment. I have collected a bunch of Daisy anemones Cereus pedunculatus whilst diving (these are very common here in Flushing). I feed all my anemones small pieces of defrosted prawn by hand, these little ones respond very well to that and I hope they will grow much larger. I also collected some more Redspeckled anemones Anthopleura balli (below). David Fenwick kindly gave me an oyster with many Jewel anemones Corynactis viridis attached (crappy pic, sorry). These did relatively well for a while when feeding fine dry foods (sold for reef aquariums) but they were bothered by the squat lobster and cushion stars and I put the oyster back in the sea (I was also worried the oyster might die and cause a huge nitrogen spike). As an experiment I removed a few jewel anemones with a scalpel and superglued them to frag plugs but they did not survive. Ah well, that might have been a first, so worth a try. With a smaller, dedicated aquarium with better filtration (to deal with many small food particles) it must be doable to keep these. At the moment there are several species of gastropods, a cute little clam, mussels, Snakelocks- Dahlia-, Beadlet- and Strawberry anemones, a small Hairy crab, Cushion stars, green urchins and a Common starfish. The echinoderms seem easiest to keep of all. I actually put the common starfish back as it was picking of all my snails which I need to keep algae in check (and are interesting in their own right of course). I added a Cushion starfish with six legs though (‘Dave’). Hopefully I can find some more anemones when diving over the summer and who knows experiment with seaweeds again.

Snakelocks Anemones Anemonia viridis

I have been snorkelling a few times in recent days and it has been generally fantastic. The pools are probably at their peak now when it comes to seaweeds, I hope it lasts a little while longer (in June it will most definitely be over, see this old post, actually, they are in decline in May already). It is the plan to get in the water again this week to take some more seaweed photos, but in the meantime some photos on one of the more common anemone species: the Snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis. There are two colour morphs: the greys and the purple-tipped greens. In Falmouth, they seem equally common, no matter if it is high on the shore or subtidally. I recently learned that in Scotland there are almost only greys, perhaps in the Med there are mainly the other type and it has something to do with temperature tolerance, if you know please let me know in the comments! I really like thuis species, in fact, the very first blog post back in 2013 consisted of a photo of these anemones in my aquarium. I have two of these in my aquarium at the moment, they are very easy to keep. This might be because in addition to being voracious predators, they are also capable of living on sunlight, as they harbour photosynthesizing algae. In any case they grow rapidly (and very occasionally split into two).I took these photos in very shallow water. When scuba diving you can commonly observe the commensal Leach’s spider crab Inachus phalangum sitting under the anemones (see here in the aquarium and here in the wild). (In Dorset there is a beautiful little prawn that lives as a commensal, and in the Mediterranean there is a goby that is associated with this species.) Only very occasionally do Snakelocks attempt to retract their tentacles (see here); tentacles can be quite long and slender or more stout (see here), probably a response to the strength of the currents. I have tweaked some of the photos a tiny bit (but not the nicest one on top for instance). Below two photos taken on different days of the same three anemones with different light conditions and different camera settings (most importantly probably the white balance, which I use to tone down the reds caused by the seaweeds).

Upper Shore Pool

img_9490-copyThe last day of January I took an hour to explore a pool at the upper part of Castle Beach. The resulting shots turned out a lot better than they did the last time. As most of the pools are bare rock, there are no problems with sand/silt, but they are very shallow and on the receiving end of drainage pipes resulting in rain water mixing with the salt water, affecting visibility (this is not necessarily bad as it can make a photo more interesting). It was overcast and I did not experience problems with overexposure; I actually found that tweaking in Photoshop made the photos look worse. Below a Beadlet anemone Actinia equina, the most common anemone on rocky shores. They can be bright red or a drab brown (the green version is rare here) but have bright blue beadlets, or more technically acroraghi. These contain stinging nematocsysts used in territorial fights. After that a small Daisy anemone Cereus pedunculatus, which are usually more mottled in appearance (and not common here, or perhaps I do not know how to look for them…).img_9502img_9483Next up, a red growth which I should have investigated further, I am not even sure if it is a sponge or something else. After that, a worn Thick top shell Osilinus lineatus,  a young Dumont’s tubular weed Dumontia contorta, a red Banded pincer weed Ceramium sp. happily producing oxygen and finally Patella limpets covered in Brown limpet paint Ralfsia verrucosa.img_9527img_9583img_9568img_9597img_9522img_9492

Photography Update

img_9033More photography practice lately. I have started to use Photoshop to post-process images, which is hard. I have sat with Thomas Daguerre for a session which was very helpful. For some images, the twiddling is of not much use; the image above of a Bull huss egg case for instance I am pretty happy with as is. Below I have pasted some before and after-Photoshop photo’s. Mostly adjusting highlights and contrast, cropping and playing around with sharpness (in the RAW files), most images tend to be a bit reddish. I have not bothered to tackle the ‘marine snow’ with the Spot Healing brush tool. First, Snakelocks anemones, next, Cocks’ comb Plocamium, then Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata and an old kelp holdfast covered in feeding Grey topshells Gibbula cineraria.img_9739b img_9739cimg_9710img_9710cimg_9733 img_6792eimg_8662new2On and under the seaweeds I encounter many interesting tiny animals, but it is hard to take good photo’s without a macrolens. I have pasted a couple photo’s below (none have been edited in any way): the Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus (these can also be reddish or brownish, and can be found on a wide variety of seaweeds), a sponge, a juvenile Snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis (next to a Flat top shell Gibbula umbilicalis) and the Star ascidian Botryllus schlosseri where I later noticed the fecal pellets underneath. Pooping tunicates, that is what we need more pictures of!img_8888img_8872img_8685img_9344Finally, some more before- and after- Photoshop images. The first is the nudibranch Rostanga rubra (‘Red doris’) which was only 5mm or so (see also the tiny Daisy anemone in the background). I shot it today, very cold: 4 degrees, and the water might have been only 8 degrees, brrrr! Next, a closeup of the seaweed Osmundea (see the first photo of this post) which shows its interesting pigmentation. The photo’s are nothing special yet, but I notice I am making progress. Excitingly, I just have ordered a macro wetlens and so hope to get some proper macro photography going soon!img_9761 img_6792cimg_9782img_9743img_9743b

End of Year Pics

I have not posted as much on the blog as I would have liked this year (in fact, I keep posting less and less: 24 times this year, compared with 33, 46 and 64 posts the previous years). My new year’s resolutions will be to dive more, to go rock pooling more and to blog more. For now, I will post some miscellaneous photos from this year that I did not bother to put on the blog at the time (as I did last year). Below a Beadlet anemone Actinia equina on the beach in St. Ives as well as a young cormorant looking for food taken with my new Canon G16:img_5943img_5922I caught a number of different fish this year, the first photo shows a small Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita in an aquarium net which were fun to watch in a little aquarium. Next a Longspined scorpionfish Taurulus bubalis caught with my big net off the quay and a Sand smelt Atherina presbyter (see here for a movie). The latter species did not last long in my tank unfortunately. I mentioned in the last aquarium update that a Topknot I caught seemed to have died in the tank too, but I found out it is still there, it just likes to hide behind the rocks.img_5174img_4810img_4794I visited the quirky Victorian Horniman Museum and Aquarium on a trip to London which features lots of stuffed animals and diorama’s which I find quite fascinating. The aquarium part is small; there is some behind the scene coral (sexual) propagation research going on which sounds very interesting. There were two or three coldwater tanks too, the larger tanks were not much too look at (I know how hard it is…) but I really liked the Victorian fountain-style aquarium. A quick snap here; see this video for a nice overview. I would like to collect some Black brittlestars Ophiocomina nigra next year, they can be very abundant at slightly deeper sites.img_5376I also visited the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth for a second time. It features the deepest aquarium in the UK, complete with plane wreck and some Sandtiger sharks. I was more interested in the coldwater stuff, of which there was quite a bit. I especially liked the Lesser weever Echiichthys vipera which can be caught on sandy shores; their venomous sting would make handling a bit tricky though. There were some cute pipefish (these need live food and I do not want to commit to that) and a round display with loads of Snakelocks anemones (see the first picture posted on this blog). I have placed a couple of these in my aquarium again, perhaps I need to get a few more, as they are so pretty and easy to keep. I did not manage to get a good shot of the very impressive Wreck fish or Stone bass Polyprion americanus in the large coldwater display unfortunately.   img_5721img_5734img_5724Next up a washed up sponge in Falmouth (species unknown) and a live one (Aplysilla sulfurea) under a rock, both taken in Falmouth with my iPhone. I have only been diving a couple of times this year and did not post about the rocky shore dives (here some photos of the maerl and eelgrass beds). I have seen a variety of interesting animals, including cuttlefish, a conger eel and lobsters but next year I hope to go out a bit further and dive a bit deeper to finally see jewel anemones and dead man’s fingers. I am not sure I want to commit to a flash and strobes though, instead I’d like to practice my rock pool (seaweed) photography. img_3410 img_5619img_2736 img_6979 img_6910 img_6904

Aquarium Update 16

It has been more than five months since the last update on my Red Sea Max 130D so high time for nr 16. I have bought a media basket to force the water more through the filtration material, which cannot be a bad thing, but otherwise have done very little. I have not been diving as much as I wanted, and still have not gone to any of the deeper sites where I perhaps could have found some Dahlia anemones, larger Brittlestars or other interesting things. I have a red seaweed growing from the rocks; it has encrusted all rocks in a deep red colour and grows out of in a bit of a lettuce-shape. At first I thought it was the invasive species Grateloupia but the shape and colour are a bit different, I will enquire at the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook group what it is. I have some green algae but they grow in tufts that can be easily removed so I cannot complain really. Below a shot of the tank, it does not look great but there you have it:img_7419The anemones are still so-so. I think that plumose anemones need very fines foods and water changes, which I do not really do and as a result they are often closed and not growing. The strawberries and beadlets still don’t do as well as they did, no idea why. My Red-speckled anemones (Anthopleura ballii) on the other hand do great and are my favourites. Below a photo of a specimen I collected at a good low tide in Flushing this week and one in my aquarium that has grown quite a bit. It fluoresces in the middle. img_5611img_7401I have some squat lobsters rummaging around as well as a cool hairy crab. I have got rid of prawns as they are so aggressive! Every time I opened the hood and stopped the pump, they came swimming to the top, legs tickling and scraping on the plastic and attacking my fingers. They are part of the reason that my fish have not fared too well. I had some Pollack for a while but they eventually succumbed. I believe my flow is on the strong side, and with an occasional missed feeding and less energy, the prawns and anemones will not tolerate any slip up! I caught some Sand smelt (see here for two videos) with my big net from the quay but these formed a meal for other inhabitants within the day. I caught a Topknot (by hand) (see here) but that disappeared after a while too. I have two or three Cornish suckers that do well though. As soon as I feed they stick their noses from under rocks and dart out to catch some defrosted shrimp but otherwise you hardly see them. I was lucky to catch a bright green juvenile Ballan wrasse Labrus bergylta of the quay which does great (they are not as nervous as the more common corkwing wrasse). I caught another individual (I only ever caught three) but the first one started picking on it, changing from bright green to a more subdued marbled green. I was not in time to release one of them and the second fish died unfortunately.

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A Maerl Dive with the Canon G16

Last Wednesday I went for a sneaky worktime dive across the Fal estuary on the Maerl beds between St Just in Roseland and St Mawes. Maerl is a slow growing, calcified type of seaweed (looks more like coral) which forms a unique and quite rare habitat, see these older posts. The water was 17°C so nice and comfortable and it was probably the shallowest dive I’ve ever done, no deeper than 3 meters. I took my new Canon G16 in a Fantasea housing and went all semi-pro by adjusting the white balance first (not that I had a go at any other settings…). I was really pleased with the results, a world of difference to the Canon D30. The beds are an expanse of maerl nodules with very little to break it up, no rocks, no sand, just the occasional old bottle and so it is hard to get any exciting angles. Still there is always something to see. In order: a baby Smallspotted catshark Scyliorhinus canicula, a Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis, a (breadcrumb?) sponge, a closed-up Snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis (a rare sight), a Parasitic anemone Calliactis parasitica, a Fan worm Myxicola infundibulum, a Harbour crab Liocarcinus depurator, a Velvet swimming crab Necora puber and a very well-camouflaged Spider crab Maja squinado.IMG_5729IMG_5738IMG_5743IMG_5754IMG_5745IMG_5762IMG_5707IMG_5753IMG_5734

Oregon

Bobs creek wayside.tifLast month we had a great holiday travelling from San Francisco to Seattle. Nature here is awe-inspiring for the average European; we saw snowcapped volcanoes, giant redwoods, dunes, beaches, mighty rivers and temperate rainforest. This is not the place for a travelogue, however, rock pools were of course checked and that is prime blog material! We had a bit of a happy-go-lucky approach to travelling and I had not checked tide times beforehand. Turns out that the tides on the Pacific West coast work very differently than those in Western Europe: instead of two almost equally low tides a day, there is a proper low tide and a not so low tide, how inconvenient! (This page has a good overview of tide types, including another type with only one low- and one high tide a day.) In the end I had two early mornings on the Oregon coast for rock pooling: Bob’s Creek Wayside south of Yachats (pic above) and Seal Rock north of Waldport (see map). (I actually prefer the more appropiate American term ‘tide pooling’ as of course there are also (freshwater) rock pools that do not experience tides.) The coast in most of Europe is so much more densely populated it is almost strange to see that vast stretches of pristine coastline with hardly any people around, brilliant. Also, the vast amounts of driftwood and logs is almost unseen in Europe, as thewhole  continent is pretty much deforested (especially in the UK, my guess is only places like Norway could be comparable in that respect).IMG_4780IMG_4852IMG_4441Being at the Pacific Northwest tide pools made me feel like a kid in a sweetshop: I could not decide to stick with a beautiful find or try to move on to the next exciting thing. It seemed a bit useless to just start documenting all the different species in the short amount of time I had. Instead I mainly enjoyed just looking around, especially admiring the Green surf anemones Anthopleura xanthogrammica (above). I know this species mainly from the Coldwater Marine Aquarium Owner group on facebook which has many North American members. Although the diversity of animals and seaweeds in the South West of the UK is amazing, I must admit I am always a bit jealous of the critters in Pacific Northwest tanks! The Green surf anemones are not only strikingly coloured and large, but also incredibly common, along with the Aggregating anemone Anthopleura elegantissima forming dense carpets on the rocks, inhabiting gulleys low on the shore to tide pools quite high on the shore.

I had taken the plunge and ordered a new camera for this holiday, a Canon G16 with a Fantasea underwater housing (see this post). However, I did feel comfortable with it in its bulky housing yet and so reverted to the more basic Canon powershot D30 and my iPhone for these sessions instead. I saw a couple of the large nudibranchs Hermissenda crassicornis as well as a Janolus fuscus, very pretty. Also below a Lined (or striped) shore crab Pachygrapsus crassipes and an unidentified prawn. Otherwise, most of the photo’s turned out to be not that great; I was just too hasty!IMG_4638IMG_4621IMG_4467IMG_4428Although all species were different (except for the Plumose anemones Metridium senile I saw on some pontoons), it was interesting to see the parallels with Cornish rock pools. For instance, all seaweed colours, shapes and textures I knew from home were present here, just in different combinations in each species. There were noticeable differences too. For one, many of the American organisms (chitons, isopods, anemones) are much bigger. The rocks were almost completely covered in barnacles and mussels (again both huge). Seagrass (Phyllospadix) was growing from the rocks!

Two mornings of rock pooling in a three week holiday was not enough, but all that was manageable unfortunately. We however also visited the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport on the single rainy day we had and that was pretty good. I am not a big fan of  the generic aquarium displays (sharktunnels, ‘nemo’s’, scary Moray eels etc) so it was nice to see mainly coldwater aquaria, especially the nanoaquariums that housed a jumble of sponges, anemones, barnacles, chitons and strange fish, such as one of my favourites, the Grunt sculpin Rhamphocottus richardsonii which camouflages as a giant barnacle (first photo, see also here). A touch pool contained sea cucumbers, huge abalones and the largest chiton species in the world, the Giant Pacific (or Gumboot) chiton Cryptochiton stelleri, humongous! I hope one day to be back in this beautiful part of the world.IMG_4024 IMG_4021IMG_4043IMG_4041