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!
Last Wednesday I went for a quick dive at Silver Steps in Falmouth, good viz and the water is no longer cold. Buddy Chris (above) and I rummaged around the U-boat wreckage (less impressive than it sounds) and unfortunately did not see any cuttlefish. What was new was a largish Topknot Zeugopterus punctatus which was gone before I could take a decent photo. I also saw seacucumbers for the first time diving (have seen them before when rock pooling, including parasitic snails). They could be Pawsonia or Aslia, but with the bodies wedged in the rocks and only the feeding tentacles visible it is not possible to tell. Sand eels were abundant and Sand smelt Atherina presbyter were also present at the surface. I hope to go back soon to practice with the strobe. I did a second dive in Flushing with Thomas too. Enjoyable but not too many great shots. I included one of Sand mason worms Lanice conchilega and fan worms Megalomma vesiculosum.
OK, as I mentioned in the last post, I had been on three dives before my exceptional viz snorkel session but did not have the opportunity to post pictures. So here goes for the first dive at Swanpool with Thomas Daguerre. Swanpool is a nice little beach but I was sceptical about it, as it is mainly, well, beach. Thomas wanted to try to find some sand-dwelling creatures though and I was up for trying something new so in we went. See him at work below in some seriously murky water! Again, spider crabs were common, sitting still but running away when getting closer, stirring up the sand. There is some sparse seagrass, arranged in thickets parallel to the strandline, some Sand mason worms Lanice conchilega can be seen in the foreground. A Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis was eating up a Pod razor shell Ensis siliqua. A little swimming crab hid in the sand, not sure which species.Also, jelly season has started, I saw several Northern Comb Jellies Beroe cucumis. They are exquisitely beautiful and very hard to focus on, which makes for a photographers nightmare. Apart from a Compass jellyfish, I noticed a Blue jellyfish Cyanea lamarcki. It appears to have two parasites, which could be the amphipod Hyperia galba. All in all not a bad dive. Also, I found a frisbee and a decent pair of sunglasses!
I was lucky to go diving twice this weekend, first at Grebe beach next to Durgan in the Helford Passage. As the photo above shows, this is as pretty as Cornwall gets, and the water looked crystal clear at high tide as well. It was a pain to get all picknick stuff and diving gear down (no parking nearby) but it was worth it. Unfortunately I left my fins in my car, so it was a very slow swim out. I emptied my stab jacket and tried walking over the seabed which half-worked (let’s say it was an interesting way of diving). Unfortunately the viz was not as great as expected. I spotted a small squid but it took off before I could take a snap. Other than that no special sightings. Below two images of the eelgrass, two frisky Sea hares Aplysia punctata and a macro photo of a Necklace shell Euspira catena. I had the rented tank refilled at Seaways in Penryn in case there was an opportunity to go out Sunday. The opportunity turned out to be limited to the village where I live, Flushing (opposite the harbour of Falmouth). I had never seen divers in Flushing or heard of anyone diving there, and judging from the siltier conditions and presence of boats that seemed to make sense. However, I always was a bit curious how this bit looked underwater, especially I wanted to check out the extent of the eelgrass emerging at very low tides (see this old rock pooling post). The visibility was not very good and near the shore there was only decaying seaweed. After a while though, lots of eelgras appeared. I was unsure whether this spot is known for eelgrass so I recorded my findings on the seagrass spotter site. This was the first time I brought my new strobe to have a play with, I need lots of practice for sure. Below a Thornback ray Raja clavata photographed with and without flash (no postprocessing used). The eelgrass looked very tall and healthy and many plants were flowering (middle of the photo). Towards the channel the eelgrass thinned out which allowed to observe little mud dwelling creatures. Sea lemons Doris pseudoargus are not that little actually (egg masses present). Finally, a lucky shot. Looking through the eelgrass, a curious school of Seabass Dicentrarchus labrax circled around me quite closeby. (After I left the water I heard a seal was near too but it would have had to be right in front of me for me to see it.) All in all it was a very interesting shallow dive close to home and I will definitely try to return soon.
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 have not posted as much on the blog as I would have liked this year (in fact, I keep posting less and less: 24 times this year, compared with 33, 46 and 64 posts the previous years). My new year’s resolutions will be to dive more, to go rock pooling more and to blog more. For now, I will post some miscellaneous photos from this year that I did not bother to put on the blog at the time (as I did last year). Below a Beadlet anemone Actinia equina on the beach in St. Ives as well as a young cormorant looking for food taken with my new Canon G16:I caught a number of different fish this year, the first photo shows a small Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita in an aquarium net which were fun to watch in a little aquarium. Next a Longspined scorpionfish Taurulus bubalis caught with my big net off the quay and a Sand smelt Atherina presbyter (see here for a movie). The latter species did not last long in my tank unfortunately. I mentioned in the last aquarium update that a Topknot I caught seemed to have died in the tank too, but I found out it is still there, it just likes to hide behind the rocks.I visited the quirky Victorian Horniman Museum and Aquarium on a trip to London which features lots of stuffed animals and diorama’s which I find quite fascinating. The aquarium part is small; there is some behind the scene coral (sexual) propagation research going on which sounds very interesting. There were two or three coldwater tanks too, the larger tanks were not much too look at (I know how hard it is…) but I really liked the Victorian fountain-style aquarium. A quick snap here; see this video for a nice overview. I would like to collect some Black brittlestars Ophiocomina nigra next year, they can be very abundant at slightly deeper sites.I also visited the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth for a second time. It features the deepest aquarium in the UK, complete with plane wreck and some Sandtiger sharks. I was more interested in the coldwater stuff, of which there was quite a bit. I especially liked the Lesser weever Echiichthys vipera which can be caught on sandy shores; their venomous sting would make handling a bit tricky though. There were some cute pipefish (these need live food and I do not want to commit to that) and a round display with loads of Snakelocks anemones (see the first picture posted on this blog). I have placed a couple of these in my aquarium again, perhaps I need to get a few more, as they are so pretty and easy to keep. I did not manage to get a good shot of the very impressive Wreck fish or Stone bass Polyprion americanus in the large coldwater display unfortunately. Next up a washed up sponge in Falmouth (species unknown) and a live one (Aplysilla sulfurea) under a rock, both taken in Falmouth with my iPhone. I have only been diving a couple of times this year and did not post about the rocky shore dives (here some photos of the maerl and eelgrass beds). I have seen a variety of interesting animals, including cuttlefish, a conger eel and lobsters but next year I hope to go out a bit further and dive a bit deeper to finally see jewel anemones and dead man’s fingers. I am not sure I want to commit to a flash and strobes though, instead I’d like to practice my rock pool (seaweed) photography.
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 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.
Summer is really over and the water temperatures are down from around 17°C to 13°C. We have not made it to any of the wrecks or rocks off The Lizard and the last set of dives was just of the good old Silver Steps in Falmouth. We had set ourselves some goals though: Chris needed Snakelocks anemones for his student projects and I wanted to catch myself some Leopard-spotted gobies for the aquarium. The Snakelocks were collected quite easily as they are so abundant. For the fish, I had bought a cheap foldable trap. The idea was to set it up in a little overhang housing the gobies, weighing it down with some rocks and come back the next day to take it back out. For bait, I had brought a chickenbone leftover from someones lunch at work. Below, a crappy pick of the trap wedged between rocks and below that a snap of some of the catch the next day (I had a two-piece websuit and in combination with an almost empty tank I was getting too buoyant to take decent photos): Three nosy Tompot blennies and also a small Conger eel; no Leopard-spotted gobies. So at least I know that in principle next year I can try trapping fish, but it might be hard for the gobies as they are very reclusive and do not barge into nets as Tompots do. The first dive, the visibility was OK(ish) and we saw a Cuttlefish Sepia officinalis. Although I have seen them before, you never get tired of them!
No other special finds. The place was absolutely swarming with Spiny starfish and most Snakelocks seemed to have multiple Leach’s spider crabs underneath them. I saw another Blackfaced blenny. Next year it is high time to dive further and deeper and also to finally get some gobies into the aquarium!