I met up this Friday with Tom from Hydro Motion Media to look for Scarlet and gold star corals (Balanophyllia regia) in a cove that was new to me: Porth Mear, between Newquay and Padstow. It was a beautiful day, sunny and crisp, but with frost on the ground. Tom was keen to capture timelapse videos of feeding Snakelocks Anemones using his GoPro. (Follow him on instagram @hydromotionmedia to see his videos.) I was keen to get some photos of the beautiful yellow coral polyps. We met recently on Fistral Beach in Newquay to look at this species in the ‘Cave of Dreams’ (see here for an old post) but I did not get any good shots that time. Tom knew exactly where to find the corals in a shallow gully. These corals are solitary but they occur in small clusters. I saw several dozens of polyps; a few stood out by being fluorescent yellow instead of the normal orange and yellow. They are tricky to photograph, awkwardly located under overhangs and with an ugly greyish ‘animal turf’ for a background. The cove was very pretty and had some really good rock pools; I will definitely try to come back here!
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!
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!
It is that time of the year again: gales, rain and darkness. The only good thing about late autumn/winter to me is that the wind blows interesting things on the beach. Portuguese Men o’ War (Physalia physalis) have been a common sight the last few years (see this post from 2017), perhaps more so than it used to be, but not sure this has been properly investigated. Yesterday we saw several dozen at Loe Bar near Helston, including the smallest specimen I have seen so far. No By-the-Wind-Sailors Vellella and no Violet Snails Janthina, and definitely no Porpita or Glaucus; maybe someday!
The jellyfish are upon us again. Slow and photogenic, I had to go out yesterday in Falmouth Bay to try out two strobes with my fisheye lens for the first time. Unfortunately, the sea is like pea soup at the moment. The wide angle allows for a close focus (getting right up to the subject) so that minimises the problem of low viz, but there still is a problem with backscatter (especially when the strobes are not positioned the right way). Anyway, I had a lot of fun practicing. Although they did not come out as crisp as I hoped, cropping, decreasing highlights and increasing contrast and clarity, made them look acceptable. I encountered a few Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella, one with a small Gadoid fish in tow (above). A bit more common were the Crystal Jellies (in the Class Hydrozoa and so not ‘proper’ jellyfish as in the Class Scyphozoa) pictured below. They are in the Aequorea genus but I am not sure of the exact species. The Barrel- and Blue Jellyfish will soon follow, giving more opportunity to practice wide angle strobe photography.
Two days after the last post I went back to my usual spot, fisheyelens on the camera. After a little recce it was obvious that the water was too milky, so I went back to the car and changed to the macrolens. It was overcast and the water was chilly. I’d seen some stalked jellyfish (see this great resource stauromedusae UK) the last time. Of course, when you are specifically looking for something you don’t find it, but in the end I noticed a Spotted kaleidoscope jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus, the most common species around here. I still struggle with my strobe, so all photos were riddled with backscatter. I could remove most of that in Photoshop luckily, but it is frustrating, especially as I had a run diving last year when I had no such issues at all. I encountered a 15 cm or so Longspined scorpion fish Taurulus bubalis as well. I cropped the shot and could put some colour back in using Windows Photos. Hope to go back over the weekend.
I joined a seaweed identification get-together at the Cornwall Wildlife Trust organised by Matt Slater last week. It was fun to chat with likeminded people and also made me want to stick my head underwater again! The weather has been horrible for over half a year now and I have been in only a few times, with little chance to take decent photos, hence the blog inactivity. This has been especially frustrating as March is the best month for seaweeds (see the 2017 Falmouth Seaweeds tag) and I am missing my window. I therefore jumped in the next day. The tides were at their very lowest, actually too low for most of my usual rockpool spot! The viz was not great due to the 20+ mph winds but just about good enough for the fisheye lens. I really hope for some good weather in the next 2-3 weeks to be able to make the seaweed photos I really have in mind.The very top photo is Berry wart cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius shot with a very shallow depth of field. The single stone above hosts a whole variety of species. The largest is Slender wart weed Graciliaria gracilis and just as the Berry wart cress it is covered in mucus threads, which must come from the tiny gastropods Rissoa parva that can be seen on it when you zoom in. To the left the wiry Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata. To the back the invasive Devils tongue weed Grateloupia turuturu. Green Ulva and young kelp can also be seen. Below some Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata. The snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis were also out in force. I hope the weather settles soon!
Facebook/instagram and even news websites have been awash with Barrel jellyfish photos and videos the last week and so I had to get a piece of the action! I had seen these gentle giants in previous years but had not tried to take any photos in earnest. I snorkelled out from the beach in Falmouth and after 200 meters or so I sure enough found three or four (they occasionally came close to each other but there of course was zero interaction). Barrel jellyfish Rhizostoma pulmo can in rare cases have a bell 90 cm wide but these were smaller, maybe 90 cm in length. I dove to take shots from below again and again: good exercise! I learner to hold my breath so the shot would not be ruined by air bubbles. I tried some over-unders but the shore was far away and so ended up only being a sliver, tricky!I tried some downward shots as well, which were much more gloomy. I saw a lone Blue jellyfish and a couple of Compass Jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella. They are much smaller and have longer tentacles that unlike the Barrel jellyfish can sting (but not badly). Jellyfish are a great subject, beautiful and not rapidly swimming off! I hope to go back soon and try some more shots. (I will have to make sure to wipe the dome port occasionally as I had to spot-fix quite a bit).
David Fenwick (Aphotomarine), Matt Slater (Shoresearch Cornwall) and Thomas Daguerre (HydroMotion Media) had all tipped me off about the elusive ‘Cave of Dreams’ at Pentire/Fistral Beach in Newquay. Recent posts by Cornish Rock Pools and The Marine Enthusiast reminded me of the stunning Scarlet and gold star coral Balanophyllia regia that live there and made me decide to drive all the way (well, it is a good 45 minutes) to the North Coast. I did not find the cave on two earlier visits (see this post from almost exactly one year ago), but today Thomas showed me exactly where it was. Cave is a big word, it is more of an overhang, and I don’t think I would have ever managed to discover it myself (you can find a photo of it behind the aphotomarine link). The corals are tiny, 5-10 mm in diameter, but there are many of them, in the low hundreds. Unlike most corals, this species relies solely on catching food with its tentacles, and it does not have algal symbionts (zooxanthellae) to provide energy from photosynthesis. Dark ‘caves’ with lots of waterflow are thus a good habitat for them. They look a bit like the tropical sun corals, who I was lucky to see in Hong Kong last year, and which are quite popular in the reef aquarium hobby. I had to carefully position myself on the rocks, dipping my camera in the water. It was too shallow to stick my head in, and I did not want to enter the water anyway, to prevent disturbing this widespread, but uncommon species. There were some interesting sponges (one of them Polymastia boletiformis) and red seaweeds, but I decided to only focus (no pun intended) on the corals. I was quite excited, this is definitely one of the most interesting species I have seen so far in Cornwall and I am sure that many people would be amazed to learn that corals live on our shores. I played around with my wide-angle lens, my new macro lens and took shots without the wet lenses. The light was low and I had to contort myself a bit but some of the shots turned out nice. The macro is still difficult, but maybe I might be expecting too much from the setup I have (without strobes). I hope to go back soon and try to get more photos, I would love to try an underwater panorama shot!
I now am the proud owner of a nauticam CMC wetlens. It arrived too late for my first encounter with a nudibranch this year, however, it came just in time for a proliferation of stalked jellyfish. These tiny (around one centimeter), sessile relatives of jellyfish are not very well-known, but seem to be getting more popular, see for some other recent finds the other local blogs Cornish Rock Pools and The Marine Enthusiast. To find them, you need to carefully scan seaweeds in rock pools (they are not very picky when it comes to which species they attach themselves to). The key resource for UK (European even) rock poolers is David Fenwick’s Stauromedusae website. Above, the most common species, the Spotted kaleidoscope jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus, recognizable by the primary tentacles or anchors (the white ‘balls’ inbetween the tentacles). Below, St. John’s stalked jellyfish Calvadosia cruxmelitensis, with a zoomed out photo and finger nail to give an idea of scale. Finally, two not so good photos of a third species Calvadosia campanulata taken above-water as these were located just below the surface. One more species can be found on mainland Cornwall (the Goblet stalked jellyfish Craterolophus convolvulus) and one on the Scillies (the Horned stalked jellyfish Lucernaria quadricornis, but who knows this species is also present on the mainland). So some more searching to do!