Trevose Head

Was last Wednesday the last sunny day of the year? It might well have been and so it was good I had taken a day off to drive to the north coast for some rock pool snorkeling at Trevose Head near Padstow. A beautiful, empty beach at Booby’s Bay led to the low cliffs of Trevose Head. I did not make it that far up the headland as there were some deep gullies and the waves were pounding below. If you slip and fall on your head you could be in real trouble on these solo outings, so easy does it. Like St. Agnes and Fistral at Newquay the pools were dominated by Brown fork tuning weed Bifurcaria bifurcata, one of my favourite seaweeds and not a species I have ever seen near Falmouth. In contrast to my local Castle Beach spot, the coral weed Corallina officinalis was not bleached but a deep purple and growing much more vigorously. I lowered myself in some of the deeper pools and although the viz was not the greatest I instantly knew the trip was worth it. I tried to get some overall impressions of the pools. What would be really cool is to try to make panorama photos underwater; I might order an underwater tripod for that! There was some green Ulva, a variety of small red seaweeds and Bushy berry wrack (and a little bit of Bushy rainbow wrack) and Sea oak with the same colour as the tuning fork weed. Many limpets were covered in quite a big variety of seaweeds. Not many shots came out well (due to the strong light, overcast days might actually be better) but it would be fun to do a post just on limpets and their mini-ecosystems of epizoic seaweeds. The pools are teeming with Montagu’s blennies Coryphoblennius galerita, I would say more than 10 per square meter. They are very curious and swim up to you, although the little ones then are so skittish that it is still tricky to get a shot. The fish below was a very good model though, quiff up high. Only through this close-up shot I noticed the strange flaps in the corners of it’s mouth. The blueish spots seem striking but also make for excellent camouflage amidst the coralweed.  Beadlet-, Strawberry- and Snakelocks  anemones were common and I also spotted large Dahlia anemones and small Daisy anemones. I saw a large (for the species) Gem anemone Aulactinia verrucosa as well. In the sun, my wide angle wetlens diffracts ligth on the subject which usually is not what you want but resulted in an interesting effect in the second image of the retracting anemone.

Finally, the bright red seasquirt Dendrodoa grossularia which I remember seeing before in Falmouth without realising what it was (the squirts are very small and clumped together). A green stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus attached to coral weed unfortunately is not in focus but I like the very striking colour contrast. If only I could get my strobe to work and get good macro shots! This has the best north coast rockpooling site so far and I’d love to go back as soon as the weather (and tide) allows!  

St. Agnes

I did a little ‘recon’ last Sunday in beautiful St. Agnes on the north coast but my timing was a bit off (the tide came in, with sediment getting suspended and the water becoming super-oxygenated, resulting in lots of bubbles on the wetlens). Luckily, this Thursday with no wind, the sun out and low tide, I had the opportunity to nip out again: awesome! Trevaunance Cove has a small beach, with rock pools on either side, I chose the Trevellas Cove side. Coincidentally, Shoresearch Cornwall (facebook here and here) had a survey and so caught up with Matt and Adele as well as Thomas from HydroMotion Media who I had not seen in a while. The north coast is quite different from the south coast I am used too: more exposed and this site for instance had none of the long Thong weed and Wireweed which dominate Castle Beach. The pools are also wider and in parts have a rocky, gravelly or sandy bottom. One spot had a considerable rock overhang, and I probably spent a full hour alone just at these six meters or so as there was so much to see. With the tide out, it was only about half a meter deep, with rocks encrusted in purple corraline algae, pink and orange sponges, bryozoans, tunicates and red seaweeds. The over-under shot is not particularly great but gives a rough impression, as do the two underwater shots (note the mysis shrimp in the last photo): There is a great diversity in red seaweeds, but I find these species quite hard to ID. The red rags Dilsea carnosa look pretty ‘ragged’ in Falmouth at the moment, but in this shaded, high wave energy spot they looked very fresh (first photo). I made a lot more photos but I was really struggling, as the bright sun reflected on the sand, with the seaweeds sticking out from the shaded overhang, such as Sea beach Delesseria sanguinea. The third photo give a good impression of the beauty of this habitat. Black scour weed and Discoid fork weed manage to scrape around in the shifting sands. Serrated wrack hangs and drips from the rocks into the pools below.Apart from the mysis shrimp in the water column, very large prawns patrol the rock surfaces and Edible crabs, Velvet crabs and Spiny squat lobsters hide in crevices. The prawns are curious and really beautiful. Most spectacularly, I found a large lobster in a cavity and at one point had a small lobster walking over to me: Many fish could be spotted as well: Topknots are common (you can just about see one glued to the rocks behind the lobster in the photo above) and there were a couple of big fat Tompot blennies around as well. Dragonets patrol the sand and are very well camouflaged (and hard to approach). A juvenile fish was hiding on and in a sponge; I first thought it was a juvenile Black-faced blenny Tripterygion delaisi, but in subsequent facebook correspondence thought of a Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita (very common here) but then settled on a little Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine. This would have been a very good subject for a proper macro-shot if only I could get to grips with my strobe! In general this was a great place and time for fish. Apart from the topknots, tompots and Montagu’s blennies (juveniles were abundant, present even in the tiniest pools), I saw sand eels, corkwing wrasse, a pollack and horse mackerel (both a bit lost in these shallow pools), corkwing wrasse, shannies, sand gobies and rock gobies. I thought I spotted a Giant goby, but this turned out to be a very large rock goby Gobius paganellus (thanks Matt Slater). After the large goby photo, a tiny Rock goby (I think), a Shanny, a Cushion star and Snakelocks anemones. I cannot wait to get back to this beautiful site, but will need to wait a bit for the next good tide…

Good Viz

Wednesday had a good low tide, sun and no wind so I headed out for the water during my (long) lunch break. I was not disappointed with the viz, although the wireweed and thong weed shed tissue (conceptacles and/or epiphytic algae?) which immediately cloud the water so you have to ‘swim and shoot’ before the opportunity is gone. At this time of the year, the seaweed biomass is at its greatest, with lots of Harpoonweed, Wireweed, Sea lettuce, Bushy rainbow wrack and Thong weed but the biodiversity is lower, with many other species such as Discoid forkweed, False eyelash weed, Bonnemaisons Hookweed and Red grape weed gone or decaying. Below some general impressions (more photos from around the same time last year here and here): On the two photos above Bushy berry wreck Cystoseira baccata (along with Brown fan weed and Oyster thief). There are many big snakelocks anemones around and quite some fish, mainly shoals of juvenile pollack, Corkwing wrasse and Ballan wrasse, Two-spot gobies and, beyond the pools above the kelp forest, shoals of sand eels and sand smelt. The wind has picked up again so no more snorkelling in the coming days. I’d love to go for a dive again but my strobe malfunctioned and is back with the manufacturer for repair and so I might wait a bit going back into the water….

Carne Beach

I have not been tempted to go back snorkeling yet, but had an hour of nice rockpooling last Saturday, at beautiful Carne Beach on the Roseland Peninsula. I had been here only once before, and found my first stalked jellyfish then. The stalked jellies (Haliclystus octoradiatus) where still there, in different colours: brown, yellow and grey (I will keep to my resolution to record my findings from now on, when I find the time). My old trusted iPhone 4S finally gave up the ghost last week so I upgraded to an iPhone SE which proved a real upgrade. (I was too lazy to bring out the Canon G16 in the underwaterhousing, which would not have been much use anyway as the pools here are very shallow.) The pools were teeming with (mating) polychaete worms and there were many juvenile Sea hares about as well. I saw whole mats of pink wriggling tentacles sticking out of the sand, something I had never seen before. These (most likely) belong to the worm Cirriformia tentaculata, quickly identified by David Fenwick, see here for very good photos of the whole animal on his aphotomarine site in addition to the rather bad snap here. I found a hermit crab inhabiting the shell of a (juvenile) pelican’s foot Aporrhais pespelecani, a species that shares the sandy beach with the razor clams that were washed up all around. The highlight for me were the anemones. Snakelocks and strawberries were common, and in addition to red Beadlet anemones, there were green ones as well (I never see these in Falmouth). Some pools at the edge of the rocks and the beach were filled with Daisy-, Gem- and Dahlia anemones. I am ready for some more seaside adventures, but the weather is rarely cooperating these days. More on the blog soon I hope!

Pink Sea Fans at the SS Volnay wreck

Today I went for my final dive this year, again with Atlantic Scuba, and this time to the wreck of the SS Volnay (see here and here for background). Just off Porthallow on the Lizard peninsula, at around 17 meters (at low tide) lie the remains of this WWI casualty, hit by a mine and dynamited twice after (probably to get rid of unexploded shells), so she is mostly flattened. The boilers still are largely intact and are very impressive though, see the first not very-well composed shot (should have used my buddy for scale); note the white Dead man’s fingers. This dive would guarantee two ‘lifers’ for me, first the European spiny lobster (or Crayfish or Rock lobster) Palinurus elephas, which seems to be getting more common the last few years. Indeed, we did not have to look hard and saw the long antennae sticking out of nooks and crannies everywhere (see also the Devonshire cupcorals on the second photo). Second, and the main thing I was looking forward too, were the Pink sea fans Eunicella verrucosa. I had found some pieces of this gorgonian washed up on the beach before but never seen it alive. Luckily, at this site it is a common species (many juveniles, unbranched little ‘sticks were also present). I took a whole bunch of snaps and edited the jpgs in the standard Windows photo viewer (I keep the RAW files but need to find some time for proper post-processing). Just reducing highlights etc does wonders, but what I really need to do is be more clever with my camera settings in the first place. My New Year’s resolution will be too think ISO and aperture and not lazily rely on presets. I might also invest in a strobe capable of manual control (thanks for tips kelpdiver @dpreview!) High time to up my game! Below, three of the sea fan photos that came out best. Lastly, a nice new species for me: Trumpet anemones Aiptasia mutabilis. My four recent dives with Atlantic Scuba have all been great; a boat full of friendly divers leaving from just down the road in Mylor, skippered by Mark Milburn who has a very deep knowledge of the area. Todays dive with buddy Jan was very relaxed but I still learned a thing or two. More diving next year! P.S. Mark Milburn just published “Falmouth Underwater: a Guide to Marine Life, Wrecks and Dive Sites around Falmouth” (available here) which I highly recommend to anyone planning to dive or snorkel in the area!

Two November Boat Dives

I had the pleasure to go on two dives with Mark Milburn of Atlantic Scuba on the ‘Stingray’ RHIB this weekend and last, leaving from Mylor Harbour (see photo above). The first dive was in the Helford Pool, a deep area in the otherwise shallow Helford river. Buddied up with Sue and Al, we descended to 18 meters to swim over a gravelly area covered with tunicates and sponges. This was a drift dive but we did not get all the way to the eastern end of the pool where some small maerl beds are located. Swimming crabs and Leach’s spider crabs were very common; there were not many fish though. One exception was a cute little John Dory Zeus faber. I was struggling to take any decent photographs, in part because I have not used my strobe much yet and because I should have two, not just one! Sue Barnes kindly let me use a photo she took of the John Dory for the blog; also added is a photo of a sponge, one of the few half-decent ones I managed to take: The dive today took us to the cannon ball site, roughly a mile from Pendennis Castle, and an area where many of the cannon balls fired for practice ended up. With buddy Alex we descended to around 16 m using a shot line. Again a flat ‘rubbly’ area with few fish. The seafloor was covered with Common brittlestars Ophiotrix fragilis. The viz was quite good, and it was much lighter than the previous dive. I also had *a bit* more luck with the strobe. Leach’s spider crabs were common, and we also saw some Sea lemons, Doris pseudoargus, a large seaslug. Up next three common species: a little Rock goby Gobius paganellus, the colonial Antenna hydroid Nemertesia antennina and the colonial sea squirt Aplidium elegans (thanks David Fenwick). I keep my eyes open for seaweeds too of course, there were some small red species and what I suspect is Desmarest’s prickly weed Desmarestia aculeata. I found out back on the boat that I completely missed a small octopus that Alex pointed out, argh! I was very happy though that I managed to spot an Imperial anemone Capnea sanguinea, which is an uncommon species. The photo of this all-white individual was taken without a strobe; I really should have taken more time to get a decent shot. A good reason to go back though, and maybe we can spot some cannon balls then too. The water is 13-14 degrees and so it is still doable to dive with a wetsuit.

recent rockpool sightings

During my ‘seaweed sessions’ I of course keep my eyes open for animals too. Most prominent are the beautiful Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis (see also here). Other anemone species seem much more rare, such as the Dahlia anemone Urticina felina. Little schools of Mysis shrimp are very common (and very hard to photograph) but fish seem less common than a few months back. The common dragonet Callionymus lyra is (as the name suggests) not uncommon but hard to approach, the third photo was the best I could do and demonstrates how masterfully it is camouflaged (but see here what fullblooded males can look like!). Next a very pretty pink sea squirt species and a Broad-clawed porcelain crab Porcellana platycheles, completely flat so, very-well adapted to living under rocks. Finally, a tiny stalked jellyfish Calvadosia campanulata. Stalked jellies seemed to have disappeared over summer, but like the seaweeds are making a little comeback during autumn. There are not many around though, I have seen less than one per hour snorkelling (see this post for better stalked jellyfish photos; I need to work on the depth of field!).

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.