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!
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.
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.