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!
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!
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!
Last week I spent a week in Hong Kong for work; of course I had also reserved a couple of days to explore the marine life! My notion that Hong Kong was some kind of city state without any wildlife had already been dispelled after reading the Green Blue Sea blog, which documents Emilie’s (free)diving adventures in local waters (as well her trips to more well-known Asian and Pacific diving destinations). Although Hong Kong is the most vertical city in the world, and one of the most densely populated ones, 40% of the country is comprised of nature parks and the surrounding seas are home to corals. With 84 species of hard corals and 26 soft coral species, coral diversity is higher even than in the Caribbean. However, diversity is lower than in other areas in the region such as Taiwan or Okinawa, which is in large part due to habitat destruction. So less than 24 hrs after landing I descended in the warm and murky waters of the Hong Kong Global Geopark, diving of a boat at Basalt Island with diveshop Splash, operating from Sai Kung. My divebuddy was expat Dod, who was so kind to provide some of his photo’s to put on this blog (the one above and the four below; thanks Dod!). The conditions for underwater photography here are about as challenging as they get with the amount of ‘marine snow’; we probably only had two meters of visibility. (I did not attempt to take pictures as I have no strobes and we went down to 18 meters so it was pretty dark anyway.) Large numbers of big, brown anemones hosting clown fish, urchins and sea cucumbers were present. Going a bit deeper, there were lots of black corals around (although they were coloured white) and there were occasional small colonies of one of my favourites, the Sun coral. Large bubble tip anemones, tube anemones, feather stars, a moray eel, pipefish and a lionfish completed this dive, good stuff! As the viz was so bad, we tried the other side of the island the following dive, and we kept it a bit shallower. We saw few fish but a decent amount of coral. Water temperatures dropped from 30+°C to 21°C at the bottom. This was very cold according to all local divers, of course giving me ample opportunity to sneer: 4°C warmer than the warmest it gets in Cornwall! My last dive was in a 9°C sea! All in all a fun and well-organized dive trip. Dod’s photo’s of Sun coral, a Sea apple (a type of sea cucumber), a pipefish (probably a Trachyramphus spp) and a Marbled rockfish Sebasticus marmoratus: Back in Sai Kung later in the week I had some more good opportunities to see the local sea life, namely in the display tanks of restaurants. The Chinese definitely lived up to their reputation to being adventurous eaters: I saw Horseshoe crab (not much meat on that!), moray eels, tiny sculpins and the Babylonia snails I only knew from the shell nets sold in seaside tourist shops. Lots of huge and beautifully coloured mantis shrimps, crabs, lobsters, abalones, geoducks, perch and much more. Seafood is also sold from boats along the pier, it was sad to even see cute little filefish cramped in holding tanks in the burning sun. There must be a lot of overfishing going on here.I went back for half a day to the Sai Kung area later in the week. Small Hoi Ha Wan park (photo at top of post) lies next to the sleepy village of Hoi Ha and has a nice beach and a coastal walking trail. Huge orb spiders sat in their webs and there were loads of pretty butterflies. If you are really lucky you can see pangolins (you have to be very lucky probably, sigh). Clambering over rocks covered with razorsharp clams and large numbers of fleeing, cockroach-sized isopods, I had a little snorkel around. I saw a good diversity of fish but there were quite some jellyfish around also, which was tricky without a wetsuit. Some scattered corals can be seen here, but this area was traditionally used for lime extraction from which the corals are still recovering. Again the visibility was very bad; I managed a single nice shot just below the surface of some fish fry. My last day was spent on the tiny island of Tung Ping Chao, the most easterly point in Hong Kong. Ferries only go in the weekend, and are packed with tourists and ex-villagers (the island is no longer inhabited) packed with supplies to cater for the tourists. I first had a little wander around the island and then checked out the rock pools at Kang Lau Check. Unlike most of Hong Kong, this island consist of sedimentary rock, diagonal layers of which have been eroded by the sea to leave shallow, angular pools. The water in the pools must have been close to 40°C. Unlike Cornwall, but just like in Oregon, there were very large acorn barnacles and clusters of Gooseneck barnacles. The chiton Acanthopleura japonica was very abundant, as were very cute green-red anemones (have not been able to Google them yet). I took some quick shots using the Canon D30; I hope Emilie or Dod at some point can visit and do a better job; some very cool underwater scenery! After a rest, I took my new Canon G16 for a snorkel. The corals here looked very healthy, although unfortunately there was quite some garbage as well. Pondering both the surprising diversity of coral life still present here, and the threats they face, I think it would be cool if some citizen science project could be set up to raise awareness. I am pretty sure many Hong Kong residents do not realize what precious marine life they have close to home. Creating reef enthusiasts will be essential to help conservation efforts. What if coral frags could be propagated in local bays and used to stock native Hong Kong nano tanks to be set up in schools as well as restore damaged reefs? Anyway, thinking about those types of projects is my form of escapism! Due to problems with my mask, not having super viz or strobes and being lazy (using the automatic setting only), I just snapped random pictures. I was pleased to see that the image quality was still quite good! Below some shots of different corals: Acropora, Favia, Goniopora, Pavona, Platygyra and two genera I could not identify to give an impression of the diversity in shapes.
I have previously posted about exploring the more muddy sites in Flushing’s Penryn River and also about catching fish with a net from the quay (here and here). This weekend had a good tide and I decided to combine the two by climbing down from the quay with my net. No blue water and clear, colourful rock pools but black mud, waste from fishing boats and in general a lot of crap, not a pretty sight/site! Mussels and (native) oysters, rock gobies, fan worms and estuary sponge are common here. Lifting one piece of waste, i found a juvenile Eel Anguilla anguilla, which was impossible to grab and place into my cuvette for a proper photograph. One cool find were bundles of squid eggs (no idea about the species). I also found tangles of the sponge Sycon ciliatum, which before I had only seen as individuals hanging from seaweeds (see here). Also visible are some Leucosolenia botryoides sponges.There was a heap of discarded scallop shells; I noticed they were covered by large Balanus balanus barnacles as well as the soft coral Dead man’s fingers Alcyonium digitatum (I had never seen this before but this could only be one thing!). The lower parts of the quaysides were covered in estuary and breadcrumb sponges and especially in droopy Morchellium (or Aplidium?) sea squirts. Although generally an ‘ugly’ habitat with lots of waste to boot, still plenty of interesting finds.