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!
Finally, time for a (solo)dive last Saturday, at probably the most accessible local site: Silver Steps in Falmouth (you can just make out the steps in the photo above). The sun and high tide had attracted quite a lot of other divers too, including University of Exeter and Falmouth University students learning the ropes. I was very keen to get in the water and take photos but my approach is probably not the best: I just shoot whatever happens to be in front of me. Better results could be obtained to specifically look for macro subjects, to stay in the water column and search for jellies, befriend the Ballan wrasse or stay put in front of a Leopard-spotted goby hide-out (or check out seaweeds of course). I’ll do one of these things next time, for now, some random shots. I spotted several Spider crabs; these are always shy and try to quickly retreat, except for one. This big crab came after me as soon as we spotted each other. I should have tried more shots, as unfortunately he did not fit the frame. You can see in the short movie why I didn’t!
The viz was not great (I find it hard to estimate it in meters though). In the water I noticed a small hydrozoan Leuckartia octona. The underside of some wreckage harboured Light bulb sea squirts (see previous post) and some were predated on by Candy striped flatworm Prostheceraeus vittatus. (I brought my new LED light with me to help bring some colour out but I just ended up with combinations of glare and shadows so stuck to my normal natural light pics.) Next, a curious Ballan wrasse Labrus bergylta. Finally, some not so clear shots that nevertheless give a good impression of how tall the invasive Wireweed Sargassum muticum are growing. Hopefully more dive posts soon!
I recently posted my first photos taken with the nauticam CMC macro wetlens using stalked jellyfish as a subject. I since lost my lens, which I in large part blame on the bad fit of the adapter with which it is attached to the housing. The best thing in these cases is not to agonize over it too much, order a new one straight away and keep going, so that is what I did (also I am now a bit more careful of course). Here some more photos of macro subjects. Above a very easy subject as it is very common this time of year and also it does not move….Paddle worm egg capsules (probably Eulalia viridis). The individual eggs can be just made out in the gelatinous blob. Below, one of the more common nudibranch species Polycera quadrilineata. Nudibranchs come in all kinds of stunning colour variations and are very species rich and so are a favourite of macro photographers (see this old post hunting for them with David Fenwick in Newlyn, and check out the NE Atlantic Nudibranch facebook page for lots of eye candy). Tricky with the narrow depth of field to get the whole animal in focus. Mysid shrimp are quite common and beautiful little animals hovering about in small groups. They need dissection to determine which species it is, but this might be Leptomysis lingvura (around 10 mm). Finally, the colonial star Ascidian Botryllus schlosseri; these form colonies (‘systems’) where zooids have individual inhalant openings and a shared exhalant opening. They are common, sessile, flat, and come in a range of colours so they make ideal subjects for a beginning macro photographer. Not only that, apart from fish they are our closest relatives in rock pools, which is most obvious in the tadpole-like larvae which have a dorsal notochord (a cartilage rod functioning as a backbone). I hope to devote a post to them later in the year.
It was a glorious bank holiday morning today and high time for another dive before the season is over. This was a dive just by myself; I had never done that before and I kept it very easy with a maximum depth of 5 meters so could surface with two kicks if needed (it was low tide so I needed to go less deep to begin with). I chose the eelgrass beds of the Helford river to play around with my new camera, a very different habitat than last weeks Maerl dive In the Fal estuary. Unfortunately no catsharks or thornback rays this time, but there were some nice invertebrates to practice on (I did not bother with the fish, way too difficult). Although I still have a long way to go to get anywhere near the quality of some of the photo’s I see on various facebook groups and blogs, it is definitely a lot easier to take good pictures with my new camera. Compare for instance the photo of a Necklace shell Euspira catena below with that of a pic taken with my old camera. Next, two very different molluscs: the Hard-shell clam Mercenaria mercenaria (introduced from North America, there called ‘Quahog’) and the Sea hare Aplysia punctata. The latter can be abundant but it is rare at the moment. The one I saw was not the usual brown but very pale, I have no idea how uncommon this colouration is. Hermit crabs are always common here however. Some of these belong to the species Pagurus prideaux, as the shell they inhabit is covered in the Cloak anemone Adamsia palliata (creamy with purple spots on the left of the shell, need to take some close-ups of that one next time). One crab was covered in the thin, white acontia threads of its anemone, which it might have induced from its partner for defence. The last photo is of the Football jersey worm Tubulanus annulatus, a very distinctive nemertean worm that I could easily identify through the excellent aphotomarine website. Now I need to get serious about the camera settings and practice, practice, practice…
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.
Last 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).Being 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!Although 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.
I have been a bit busy and so the photos below are some weeks old. The seaweeds are in decline already it seems. Actually, that is not true, there are plenty of seaweeds growing, but some of the prettier ones are dying off and some of the uglier ones are taking over. The window to take the nicest rock pool shots is quite short, pretty much early spring only. The ubiquitous False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata is yellowing, the green Sea lettuce Ulva lactuca is starting to cover everything and the Red grape weed is getting ‘fluffy’. Not the best session photo quality-wise and probably the last of the year. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia is abundant and looking good (on the photo with Discoid forkweed Polyides rotundus) and I managed I nice shot of young Thong (or Spaghetti) weed Himanthalia elongata. I have done some more research into ‘proper’ underwater cameras and was tipped of about the Canon G16 (thanks Thomas from HydroMotion Media), maybe something for next year….The past couple of times when focusing on the seaweeds I also encountered some animals (it is hard not to). Many Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis, with some having very short tentacles. Next, a Decorator crab Macropodia rostrata covered in Banded pincer weed Ceramium. Mermaid’s purses (egg cases) of the Bull huss/Greater-spotted Dogfish/Large-spotted Catshark/Nursehound Scyliorhinus stellaris seem to be exclusively attached to Bushy rainbow wrack. Finally, a Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus on Wireweed Sargassum muticum.
The weather has been generally awful so far this year and so I have not been out much. However it is March already so at least a small blog post is in order! There are loads of Worm pipefish Nerophis lumbriciformis around, some of the males carrying eggs (see also the blog header and the ‘about’ section). I found my smallest one yet. Next up a Sea urchin Psammechinus miliaris with what is probably the parasitic (or commensal?) polychaete worm Flabelligera affinis (thanks David Fenwick). After that, a slighlty out of focus shot of the hydroid Candelabrum cocksii. A few of these small individuals were sat under the first rock I turned over; I reckoned they were some type of spoon worm but they are something very different, thanks again David Fenwick, see for his much better photographs of this weird little thing here. Next the Wrinkled rock borer Hiatella arctica with siphon extended and the pretty acorn barnacle Balanus perforatus. Finally a picture of the Strawberry anemone Actinia fragacea, quite common and pretty, but I do not think I have ever posted a picture of it on the blog before. (All pics taken at Castle Beach in Falmouth btw.) I have three in my tank and it is high time for an aquarium update as well. I hope to go out tomorrow and the weekend as the tides are very low so watch this space!
A nice low tide at Falmouth’s Castle Beach today. The weather was not great but at least it was not raining (I still managed to get quite soaked, including my wallet…). Quite a lot of brittlestars, urchins, worm pipefish and porcelain crabs around. I did some collecting for the aquarium: beadlet and strawberry anemones, snails and urchins. Otherwise I focused on the smaller stuff and took pictures with the olloclip macrolens on my iPhone. First two tiny crustaceans that I have not attempted to identify and what I think is a tiny Edible crab Cancer pagurus. The nicest find was a white colonial tunicate that at very first sight looked like an eggmass. I could not readily identify it using the usual websites, so hope that the NE Atlantic Tunicates facebook page members can help me out (Note: they did, it could be a ‘regressed’ Diplosoma spongiforme). On Sunday I had a quick look in Flushing and for the first time found some juvenile Candy-striped flatworms Prostheceraeus vittatus (see here for adults), very pretty!
The winter season is the time for beachcombing and so I was very happy that Santa gave me The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline; a fantastic guide to objects washed on British (and NW European) shores by Steve Trewhella and Julie Hatcher. One of the things that sets it apart from other guides is that it not only covers biological ‘objects’ (shells, fish, mermaid’s purses, sea beans etc) but also strandline debris of human origin (e.g. buoys and nurdles). After a walk at Praa Sands beach, it helped me to identify the Goose barnacle Lepas pectinata. A must-have book for anyone who likes to spend time on the beach! At Praa Sands I also found several Chama bivalves attached to a tangle of rope. David Fenwick has recently described three Chama species, all from (around) Florida (there are no native species), see here for much more detail. Unfortunately it is very difficult to tell what species it is from only the lower valve of the ‘Jewel Box’. It is interesting to see that even commonly encountered bits of rope and net can be from as far as the other side of the ocean. Hopefully there will be some westerly January storms to wash up more interesting species!