Silver Steps Diving IV

A solo dive early evening at the Silver Steps site. It was a couple of weeks I last went, and this time it was already dusk when I entered the water. My intention was to find cup corals and other small creatures growing on rock overhangs below the kelp line. The viz was good and sure enough I found what I was looking for: Devonshire cup coral Caryophyllia smithii, a solitary stony coral which is relatively common. They are very beautiful and the right size for the macro lens. I will definitely go after them again. Other finds were a golfball sponge Tethya aurantium, a baby Longspined seascorpion (this shot had potential, but it swam away unfortunately), a tunicate and a Painted topshell (very common). At the end of the dive unfortunately it was getting too dark to find objects or too properly focus; I need to sort out a dive light!

Silver Steps Diving III

I will keep this post short, as my third Silver Steps shoredive of the year was a week ago. As you can see above, my dive was made by encountering the beautiful nudibranch Antiopella cristata (although I prefer the old name Janolus cristatus…). My camera battery strangely gave up straight after taking these pics (argh!), otherwise I would have bothered it for at least another ten minutes! The 60mm lens is great. Look at the European cowrie Trivia monacha below which is less than a centimeter in length. Not a great shot but it shows that it is possible. Finally, a common Phoronid worm Phoronis hippocrepia (Thanks Allison, please check out her great blog Notes from a California naturalist). I hope the wind will die down and I can go back soon.

Silver Steps diving II

Another Silver Steps shore dive with @shannonmoranphoto and her fellow student Chris on Friday. The conditions were not as good as last time: low viz and a bit of a swell. I had set my camera to a longer focal range to try to take pics of cuttles or larger fish but that did not work out (with better conditions it still might not work out!). I could still shoot macro so that is what I did. Above to Devonshire cup corals Caryophyllia smithii. Pretty decent, but I know I can get a better close-up; I will try again Monday! I will have another go at the one resident Cray (or Craw) fish, which lives very shallow. I will also try the Twin fan worm Bispira volutacornis again, as I think a shot filled with just the fans (and not assorted bits of seaweeds etc) could be really nice. I might try free-swimming fish if they come close, as did this Poor cod Trisopterus minutus. Below some before- and after postprocessing. Just the jpegs in Windows Photos, nothing fancy. A bit of cropping, increasing clarity and contrast works wonders. Only when I have a really good photo I will invest time processing raw files in Photoshop. First the best photo of the dive: a Black-faced blenny Tripterygion delaisi (a female or possibly a non-breeding male). Next, a common Edible crab Cancer pagurus and finally a Twospotted goby Gobiusculus flavescens.

Silver Steps Diving

Finally a shore dive yesterday evening, it has been a long time. I partnered up with buddy Shannon via instagram (@shannonmoranphoto). Instagram has been a really nice way to learn about photography from likeminded folks (such as @danboltphoto and @malcolmnnimmo). We dived (dove?) Silver Steps in Falmouth, about which you can find a bunch of old snorkelling and diving posts on the blog if you are interested. Shannon was the ideal buddy: relaxed and really into photography, so we kept the same tempo. It was a very shallow dive (maybe 5 meters), so we were only limited by getting cold, which was after an hour. I chose to use my 60mm lens, but not to use the 1:1 macro setting, but the 0.19-040 focal range to try my hand at slightly larger objects such as fish. I was thus lucky in a sense that I did not encounter any beautiful nudibranchs of which I would not be able to to take a good shot. (Edit: actually, I since learned that 1:1 is still possible using this focal range). It was however unfortunate that I could not get a good shot of a cuttlefish that hovered about two meters away, rapidly changing colour and catching a wrasse! Next time I will perhaps change settings again to try my hand at (cuttle)fish swimming a bit further away. However, I was very happy with sticking to Leopard-spotted gobies Thorogobius ephippiatus. They do not stick their little faces out of nooks as do most blennies, but usually lie on and under ledges. The trick was to approach very slowly, shooting until they swam off. For some reason, I managed to position my strobe right and did not have backscatter issues. I used Windows Photos to postprocess. See below for a before and after example: Two other common organisms below: a Squat lobster Galathea rugosa and a Twin fan worm Bispira volutacornis. And finally an out of focus, but fun photo of a tiny tiny clingfish very aptly clinging to Shannon’s housing. This was one of the most fun dives in ages and I hope to repeat it sometime soon!

First dive of 2018: the N.G. Petersen Wreck

It was time this Saturday: my first dive of 2018! Leaving with Atlantic Scuba‘s Stingray rhib from Mylor Harbour, we plunged in the cold (9°C) water above what remains of the N.G. Petersen in Falmouth Bay. Frustratingly, the indicator light of my strobe kept flashing red and green, so taking decent photos was out of the question. Luckily, I am able to post a nice little clip of this dive made by fellow diver Glyn Kirby (thanks Glyn!). It gives a good impression of life on the wreck and the plankton bloom, reducing the viz quite abit. Inbetween the rubble, some urchins, edible crabs, spider crabs and lobsters. Also great to see five or so (small) Rock Lobsters and some wrasse and shoals of Bib (with some other gadids hanging about too). We saw a small freeswimming Conger Eel and a very big one sticking its head out of a tube (photographic evidence below the video, such a shame the flash did not work because the angle I got was nice). All in all a good dive together with excellent buddy Al. More diving soon I hope!

Pink Sea Fans at the SS Volnay wreck

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!

Two November Boat Dives

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.

Raglans Reef

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!

more diving

diving silver stepsLast 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.

Swanpool

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!