Yesterday I went for a late morning snorkel; although the water looked inviting, the viz was disappointing. I did not see anything of interest until I noticed a Seabream (15-20 cm) hanging about, not a species I had seen before! It goes to show that there is no dive or snorkel session whithout something that makes it worthwhile. The fish was not very shy, but I did not have weight or fins so I could not get down to get a proper shot from the side. I found out that this was a Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata). This southern species seems to have become more frequent on the South coast of the UK the last few years, probably due to warming seas. It seems to be known among anglers, but less so among underwater observers (the NBN Atlas only has two records for this species in Cornwall). Other than that the usual Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, Two-spot gobies, Pollack and even a Blenny (very commonly found under rocks while rockpooling but I hardly ever see them when snorkeling).
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….
A quick post to keep the blog going. Seaweed season has passed me by a bit, first because of the bad weather and second, when the weather was better, because I did not have much time to go out. I went snorkelling only twice in May in my usual (shallow) spot at Castle Beach in Falmouth. On the 13th of May the plankton bloom was in full swing: a (wannabe) photographers nightmare! Generally, the seaweeds at this point were already a bit ‘over the hill’. I managed to get a nice shot of Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius though (above). I also glimpsed what I believe is Iridescent Drachiella Drachiella spectabilis under a rock overhang. The bright blue Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia contrasted very nciely with the deep red of the Red rags Dilsea carnosa, I hope to get a much better picture of that (probably next year…).By the next snorkel session the 19th, the visibility was much better. Some photos of the green seaweed Codium sp., A Gelidium sp. (pulchellum?) and a patch of Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens growing epiphytically on Hairy sponge weed Cladostephus spongiosus with the very common species Ulva and Oyster thief Colpomenia peregrina (and others). Next, Beautiful Fan weed Callophyllis laciniata and another Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius. Finally, three shots giving a general impression of the seaweed growth and what I think is Chipolata weed Scytosiphon lomentaria as well as a snakelocks anemone inbetween yellowed False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. About the animals: there are some juvenile pollack around, as well as two-spot gobies. I saw a brown, flabby shape drifting through the water at one point and my first thought was that it was a seahare but it actually turned out to be a small clingfish (I could not get a photo unfortunately). There were quite some polychaete worms erratically swimming around in their reproductive ‘epitoke’ stage. The final photo shows one (with a Nassarius reticulatus in the background) which could be Perinereis cultifera.
This Thursday was only sunny, but also not windy, with a good low tide in the early afternoon, which meant I reserved a few hours to go to Tunnel/Castle/Gylly beach for some snorkelling. The photo above shows Gylly Beach, with the start of Swanpool lagoon behind it and the Lizard in the far distance. (I took this with my iPhone using a Hipstamatic filter; for more iPhone pics of Cornwall see cornwall_hipsta on instagram…). The water temperature was OK (9C?) but the viz was not as good as I hoped. The seaweeds are at their peak now and the pools looked very pretty. Not many fish, but I saw a small brown thing floating around which I first thought was Sea hare, but turned out to be a small (perhaps a Connemara) clingfish lazing about until it noticed me and bolted into the seaweeds. I carefully snorkelled in about half a meter of water, admiring the views and trying to take photos close-up (as the viz was not too good) with my wide angle wetlens. Below an above-water shot of some iridescent Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and the invasive red Bonnemaisonia hamifera (on the left). I need to go back studying photography basics. A main challenge is contrast. The pools have beautiful white sand, which result in hugely overexposed photos (or completely darkened subjects). I have come up with my own law, the Photography Frustration Index (PFI): the beauty of the subject (B) x the difficulty of capturing it (D). The PFI is very high in the case of seaweeds! Next: Bushy rainbow wrack under Thong weed, Purple claw weed Cystoclonium purpureum, Bushy berry wrack Cystoseira nodulosum covered with the epiphytes Asparagopsis (left) and Bonnemaisonia (right), Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata (you can see they grow in the sand and must be used to scouring) a ‘bouquet’ of different species (with a snakelocks anemone) and a last photo of a variety of species, including the common False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. The tides and weather conditions are unfavourable the coming days but I hope to go snorkeling again end of the week!
It was cold last Thursday, but I had a window to go to the shore at low tide so I did. Optimistically, I went in full snorkel gear, but when I arrived I could not muster the courage to stick my head underwater! (5 degrees, water probably 9 degrees). So I waded in kneedeep and held my camera underwater to try some ‘over-under’ or split-shots’, with both the underwater- and above-water world in view. This is tricky using a wetlens, as there is water between the housing and the lens, which slowly leaks out when lifting the housing out of the water, resulting in a meniscus. The only way to do it is to be quick and frequently resubmerge the housing and get the lens off and back on. I brought my strobe as well (not attached to a tray but holding it in my other hand). This is crucial, as the above water part gets really over-exposed. I compensated 2 or 3 f-stops to prevent this; the strobe then lights up the even darker below-water part. At least, that was the idea, the strobe often made it too bright underwater (I have a simple ‘TTL’ strobe and not one where the strobe output can be manually adjusted) so I had to fiddle increasing the distance I held it from the camera. Post-processing bringing down the highlights was definitely necessary. Anyway, it was good fun to play around, and some of the shots are half-decent considering the circumstances. I definitely will try this more when it is a bit warmer and I can snorkel and look through the viewfinder. (At the end a conventional shot of a small snakelocks anemone just because it was pretty.)
It has been a year and a half since I bought my Canon G16 and tried to be a bit more serious about my underwaterphotography: I should have done that a lot earlier! Two sessions with Thomas from HydroMotion Media to get up to speed with my camera greatly helped. I have switched from rock pooling to lying flat in rock pools with my snorkel. Sticking your head underwater unsurprisingly is the best way to take underwater photos. I am slowly coming to grips with the technical aspects of photography, moving away from automatic settings but have a lot of practice to do. I also (finally!) started to play around with RAW images in Photoshop. Compare the image above with the original here to see what a massive difference this can make. I have also bought a strobe and although I have been diving a bit more this last half year I have not used it a lot yet. Strobes are pretty much a must for any diving (rather than rockpool) underwaterphotography in the UK, so I am very happy I have one now. I tend to massively overexpose and instead of buying the one of the cheapest ones, in hindsight I should have gone for a manual rather than TTL strobe but there is lots of room for improvement positioning the strobes and decreasing shutter time etc. This colonial sea squirt Aplidium elegans from a boatdive with Atlantic Scuba at the Falmouth Cannon ball site came out pretty OK. I would really love to go back to the Manacles next year and try to get good photos of jewel anemones. Deeper water photos are great fun, but that is what everyone is doing and maybe my niche is that of the shallow rock pools with natural light. I have been concentrating mainly on seaweed photography (see these 2017 posts) using a wide angle wetlens (I might be using this lens a bit more than is appropiate). The first image below is perhaps my favourite, lots of colours and textures. I had one snorkel session in June where the visibility was truly exceptional (well, for Cornwall anyway), see the second photo below. You can have the best equipment and skills (I have neither), but with bad visibility it is nearly impossible to get good photos. I have done quite some coastal ‘drive-by’s to check whether I should be getting in the water. (these two photos have not been put through photoshop btw) I did post some of these photos on the UK Viz Reports facebook group to make people jealous…which worked! I also bought a nauticam CMC-1 macro lens which allowed me to take some half-decent pics of tiny stalked jellyfish. I only had a couple of dedicated macro snorkel sessions and have not used it whilst diving but I would really like to start photographing nudibranchs and other little critters next year. I was on a roll with the blog in the first half of the year but slowed down a bit after that, in part because I was too busy and in part due to changes in Google algorithms greatly decreasing traffic to the blog (I am not in it for the ‘hits’ but still, it was a bit disheartening). I’ll try to post more regularly again; at the very least it forces me to critically evaluate and process my photos and ID organisms (another New Year’s resolution is to register any noteworthy finds through SeaSearch; it is dumb I have not been doing that earlier). Instead of blogging, I have been fiddling with my phone and uploading photos on my an_bollenessor instagram account. It has been a very good way of reviewing the work of many underwaterphotographers (and I am the first to admit that it also is just very addictive). I tried Flickr first as it seems to be a lot more sensible (i.e more serious photographers and less attention seekers) but somehow it did not work for me as well as instagram. One of my favourite moments in the water was at the ‘cave of dreams‘ (more a small rocky overhang) in Newquay, where I saw the Scarlet and gold star coral Balanophyllia regia. It was fantastic to see hundreds of small, bright yellow corals (as well as some assorted sponges) scattered on the rock walls and reflected on the water surface. What I really would like to do is create an underwater panorama photo of this next year. Might not work (cramped, low-light conditions and I have not been able to find examples of panoramas taken at 1-2 feet distance) but worth a try! Fish I find the most difficult to photograph (they tend to swim off!) but I was lucky one afternoon when a Longspined sea scorpion stayed put long enough to get a good shot. Lastly, I have reposted my favourite underwater photo of this year, that of two Bull huss’ mermaids purses attached to Bushy rainbow wrack, taken in maybe two feet of water in March. I hope to post a lot more photos in 2018!
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!
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.
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!).
Above the spot where I have been snorkeling all year at Tunnel Beach, between Castle- and Gylly Beach, in Falmouth (Pendennis Castle can be seen in the background). The best time to snorkel is before low tide, as when the tide comes in the viz gets worse. I try to aim for 50-100 cm above the low tide mark which is really shallow. This area is not a real rock pool but rather a gravelly zone between the rock pools proper and the kelp forest which begins past the last row of rocks on the photo. Last week I went snorkelling three times but only last Thursday had decent viz. The photos below show the abundance of pink Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata, green Sea lettuce Ulva lactuca and new growth of Thong weed Himanthalia elongata and older plants covered in red fuzzy epiphytes. The old wireweed Sargassum muticum plants have died off and the remnants are covered in many epiphytes such as Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticilata, Cock’s comb Plocamium cartilagineum and the pretty Iridescent fern weed Osmundea truncata. However, there is new growth everywhere as well so, like Himanthalia, this species seems to have a half-yearly lifecycle. Below some Irish moss Chondrus crispus next to Wireweed. After that, lots of little fuzzy Falkenbergia growing on top of Discoid forkweed Polyides rotundus. This combination grows in a large patch and looks interesting but I struggled to get decent photos, as the dark seaweeds on very white gravel mess up the white balance big time. Next one or two different species of fine flat reds, the last probably Nitophyllum punctatum. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia is dying off (here overgrown with Asparagopsis and Dictyota) but the related Bushy berry wrack C. baccata is doing well. Among its epiphytes Spiny straggle weed Gelidium spinosum (ID thanks to Seaweeds of the Atlantic facebook page members) which is also freeliving, and finally the green Codium fragile. One time, when the tide came in, the water was super oxygenated, and all surfaces were covered with small silver bubbles which was beautiful (and annoying as the camera lens was also covered). The following photos show a very different looking Codium fragile, C. tamariscifolia overgrown with Sea beach Delesseria sanguinea and more Thong weed.