aquarium update 11

The aquarium was in desperate need of a make-over (again…). I hauled a ton of rocks over from the beach and stacked them up. (I thought at first that I would need something to stick the rocks together (epoxy, superglue or waterfall foam) but that wasn’t really necessary). I also removed most of the gravel and replaced it with sand. So quite a big change but it really looks a lot better. However, my nice burrowing Red-speckled anemones suffered a bit when putting the sand in, and even after siphoning it off again I could not really find them anymore….hopefully they turn up again!IMG_7849 The aquarium is still a bit bare and I have to go out and collect things that will live on the rocks, such as anemones and seaweeds. However, there is some progress on the seaweed front. There is a bit of Irish moss Chondrus crispus growing spontaneosly from the back wall. There are also some patches of pink corraline algae; which must be Coral weed Corralina officinalis judging from one outgrowing patch. Having this species grow would be great, but they do not seem like fast growers. Chrysymenia wrighti is still thriving on the circulation pump; I remove a bit every now and then, so it acts as an ‘algae scrubber’, removing nutrients from the water. I have placed a couple of other seaweeds in the aquarium, a bit risky as they can die off and start trouble, but I can’t help it. The red Soliera chordalis below has done well before but unfortunately has started to die off a little already (first pic). I have a big piece of a flat red species that has started to grow from nowhere as well (second pic).IMG_7908IMG_7652One day, the aquarium was full of strings of Painted topshell eggs. I noticed when feeding a day later that the water was not very cold: I had forgotten to switch the pump/chiller back on two days previously! So the trick to breed this species is to increase the temperature, although I am not expecting much to happen with the eggs. Either the Thick-lipped or Netted dogwhelks are also occasionally sticking their egg masses to the glass. I placed a chunk of orange Estuarine sponge in the aquarium; this was devoured by Painted topshells and Cushion stars, so it is a good bit of live food to add. I had planted a little washed-up eelgrass plant to see if it would survive and indeed it has grown more roots. (If you want to try this yourself, please always use washed up plants and don’t dig out any, as eelgrass beds are vulnerable habitats.) It would be great to have a second tank dedicated to eelgrass….The little scallop is still happy (see close-up). I have added another filter feeder: a Leathery sea squirt Styela clavata. Butt-ugly, but that is actually fun too. I am trying it out as they are an invasive species and so probably pretty hardy. A Sting winkle seems to like it (but not eat it). I have never seen my two Sting winkles eat anything actually. They move about very slowly, but they have grown.IMG_7651IMG_7914Now the snakelocks anemones are gone, I have added some more fish. I have caught some juvenile Pollack Pollachius pollachius with my net. At first I caught ones that were less than an inch, but they did not survive. Of the six two-inch or so ones I caught, three dissappeared after one day, but the remaining three are going strong. Very nice looking fish! I also caught a little Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine (by hand at low tide). It is quite shy, but is increasingly showing itself. A beautiful little fish! I have one remaining Two-spotted goby. The Common goby is doing very well and eats from my hand. I think I’ll go for another little tompot, more Pollack and Two-spotted gobies. Ideally I would catch some Leopard-spotted gobies with a trap when diving, let’s see….The other fish I would like to have again is the Goldsinny wrasse: very pretty and not as nervous as Corkwing wrasse. IMG_7887

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Mud pooling off the Quay

IMG_7252I 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.IMG_7265IMG_7258IMG_7276There 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.IMG_7279IMG_7284IMG_7282IMG_7287

a superlow tide at Flushing

IMG_6840The tide this Sunday in Flushing was as low as it was the day before in Mount’s Bay and the weather was just as great too. We could walk among the Eelgrass and Golden kelp Laminaria ochroleuca. There were lots of Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis around; especially striking were patches of what must be clones. The tentacles are much shorter than the ones in my aquarium or those found deeper on kelp, must be due to being less exposed to the waves. Loads of fish as is usual here, a single overturned rock yielded five species alone! Again pictures of the Connemara clingfish Lepadogaster candollei, a Butterfish Pholis gunnellus (very wriggly, hard to get a good shot) and Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine eggs:IMG_6880

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IMG_6865This site is sheltered and silty and some species are more characteristic for this habitat and much less common in Castle Beach in Falmouth. Examples include the Keyhole limpet Diodora graeca, the Elephant hide sponge Pachymatisma johnstonia and the Yellow-plumed seaslug Berthella plumula:IMG_6869

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IMG_6885The diversity of seaweeds was very high and I think the pictures below give a good impression of that. Very low on the shore Bushy noduled wrack Cystoseira nodicaulis can be found; in this case almost as iridescent as is Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia. We found some Beautiful kidney weed Kallymenia reniformis, here David Fenwick is taking a photo of it on his first visit to my local haunt. All in all one of the best rock pooling weekends so far!

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new camera: Canon Powershot D30

As I drowned my Panasonic Lumix (some pics here) and as my Canon Powershot in an underwater housing (some pics here) is quite cumbersome (forgetting the option of taking my iPhone underwater), I decided to buy a new point-and-shoot underwater camera. All major brands have a rugged (shock-, dust- and water-proof) option and needless to say each has their pro’s and cons. I decided for the Canon Powershot D30 because I know and like the brand and because it goes deepest (24 meters) which would mean I could take in on any future dives. I later read (tip: don’t read more reviews after you have ordered) that the aperture is relatively small (bad for low light (UK underwater) environments) and that it had not been updated significantly from the previous version…so it is not all great. In general, point-and-shoot camera’s won’t give you super great images (although sometimes you strike lucky). However, there is a VERY large price gap between these camera’s and SLRs in housings (with lights). Check here for a nice Beginner’s Guide to Underwater Photography.IMG_3295I tried out the camera just for a little bit as I did not have much time. I went rock pooling which meant I could not look through the viewfinder for any underwater pics. The pools at the moment are dominated by brownish fuzzy algae which do not look great and it was overcast, so conditions were not ideal. Here a snap of Morchellium argum, a colonial tunicate that is common at the moment:IMG_0006Two pics for comparison with the iPhone of a Dog whelk Nucella lapillus laying eggs. I will probably still stick with the iPhone for above-water pictures as I prefer tapping the screen to focus as well as having the olloclip macro option. Also, the colours seem more vivid, although to be fair I need some more time to play around with the Canon. iPhone first, Canon second:IMG_3267IMG_0022

scummy pools

For the first time in a while I had time to nip over to Castle Beach to do a little rock pooling. The tide wasn’t the best and the pools did not look to great either actually; this seemed to be due to a mix of some seaweed species dying off, and some not so great-looking species ones blooming: IMG_0317Lots of Wireweed, Ulva and very fine weeds (the latter are often very pretty under magnified and in water, but not so much as a blob on the rocks). What might be Desmarestia viridis (but don’t take my word for it): IMG_0319Still, there was plenty to see: Orange-clubbed sea slugs for instance and one very weird-looking creature I had never noticed before was clinging on in little groups on red seaweeds under overhangs, the annual sponge Sycon ciliatum:

IMG_0218The Breadcrumb sponge Halicondria panicea can be very nicely coloured: IMG_0240There were a lot of tunicates about. Colony-forming Morchellium argum for instance and this beauty, probably Ascidia mentula (determined by helpful folks at the ‘NE Atlantic Tunicata‘ facebook group): IMG_0276IMG_0279One colony-forming tunicate looked superficially like Botryllus but was much bigger and less pretty, it might be Aplidium nordmanni:IMG_0248 Quite a lot of Sting winkles Ocenebra erinacea were around as well:IMG_0288Finally, I spotted the orange/yellow egg masses of the Cornish sucker (or Shore clingfish) Lepadogaster lepadogaster (see here for an older post on them). However, I also found some that were greyish and had a speckled band, as well as a red dot between the eyes. Local expert David Fenwick told me these are from the Small-headed clingfish Apletodon dentatus, a species I have not yet seen the adults of (see his site for pictures): IMG_0314

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two tiny snail species

On my way back from rock pooling yesterday in Flushing I turned one last rock on the upper shore and found two species of tiny snails that I had not noticed before. First, a couple of Two-toothed white snails Leucophytia bidentata, one of the few terrestrial, airbreathing snails that have returned to a marine habitat:IMG_8230More numerous was the smaller species Cingula trifasciata. Below a group next to a large wormshaped eggmass that my Seasearch Identifications friends quickly pointed out belonged to the Ribbon Worm Lineus ruber:IMG_8246

south of maenporth beach

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We went for a stroll last weekend in between showers: starting from Maenporth beach, following the coastal path south (direction Lizard). We discovered a nice, rocky beach with an abundance of rock pools. Not that much time to explore, but the pools seemed different from those on Castle Beach: filled with sand and with much more bare rock (probably because of scouring).

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Pestleweed Gigartina pestillata (not entirely sure but a species tolerant to sand cover so that fits) was common. I found a small (5 mm) jade-coloured egg mass on this seaweed that I could snap using my iPhone olloclip macrolens. According to the SeaSearch Identifications facebook group, probably from the Green leaf worm Eulalia viridisfrom the snail Lacuna vincta.

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Bretagne: Pleneuf-Val-Andre – part 1

The second good rock pooling session in Bretagne was in the little port of Pleneuf-Val-Andre. The rock pools themselves were very similar to those in Erquy. The only interesting find there was a pretty gastropod I had not seen before (a white snail with a dark brown/black shell about 1,5 cm in length). It looks like a Trophon muricatus, although I am not 100% sure Raphitoma purpurea:

IMG_4640 The number of Slipper limpet Crepidula fornicata (live and dead) was quite amazing, there were whole banks of them:

IMG_4625The little channel from the port to the sea, a mix of sand and rocks, was more interesting than the actual rock pools:

IMG_4655with a variety of organisms washing up, for instance this large (dead) Common spider crab Maja squinado (European shoe size 45 in the background…):

IMG_4604A Dog cockle Glycymeris glycymeris shell:

IMG_4605Egg cases (‘a sea wash ball’) of the edible Common whelk Buccinum undatum:

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Cuttlebones were scattered everywhere along the shore and we even found a clump of Common cuttlefish Sepia officinalis eggs:

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IMG_4670The eggs were quite big and had a weird texture. I don’t know if these egg clumps can survive hours on the beach at low tide, probably not. It would have been cool to take them to an aquarium to see if they would hatch. It is extremely difficult to keep cuttlefish though, they need live food and large aquariums which usually are still too small still to prevent ‘butt burn’ when they jet backwards into the tank wall and their cuttlebone gets exposed right through the mantle. In the next post I will get to the washed up seaweeds.

Bretagne: Erquy

Last week we crossed the channel to attend a friend’s wedding in Bretagne (Brittany). This of course also called for some rock pooling action, first at the village of Erquy. It was interesting to compare the shores of Bretagne to Cornwall (or at least Falmouth and this small stretch of coast in northern Bretagne). Immediately noticeable was the large amount of oysters on the rocks (with some locals busy collecting them, quelle surprise); these are pretty much absent in Falmouth:

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Similar to the Cornish coast, wireweed Sargassum muticum was abundant. This Pacific invader surely must have a large effect on the native flora and fauna:

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Invertebrate diversity was strikingly low compared to my local rock pools. For example,  the only fish to be found were Shannies (and not a lot of them), there were no Cushion stars and no large crustaceans except for the shore crab. However, we did find a Common spider crab Maja squinado:

IMG_4495As there was not that much to see, I turned my attention to some of the less spectacular life forms, such as Pink paint weeds, red algae forming a calcified crust. The particular species pictured below forms a patchwork of individuals, crinkling up at the edges where they meet. This could be Litophyllum incrustans, but species are hard to identify by non-specialists such as myself. The little spots on the surface are the openings of reproductive structures called conceptacles.

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IMG_4486The European sting winkle Ocenebra erinacea was quite abundant and distinctive vase-shaped egg cases could also be found:

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taking my iPhone underwater

Two weeks ago I went snorkeling with colleague Chris (his hands can be seen in a picture in the previous post) as we figured making a pact would speed up the process of getting in the water. Spring has been so-so and sticking your head beneath the surface was a bit painful but in the end we stayed in for 45 minutes or so. Unfortunately the visibility was very bad. The sea was almost like a soup: you could feel the algae streaming down your face. However, lots of small jellyfish could be seen and occasionally a wrasse darting off. In slightly deeper water, the seaweeds were dominated by Oarweed or Tangle Laminaria digitata. Seaweed diversity seemed much higher in the shallows and the bright light green of the Sea lettuce, the pink of the Harpoon weed and the blue of the Bushy rainbow wrack looked quite amazing.  Last week I went back by myself during a lunch break with the audacious plan of taking some underwater pictures with my iPhone. There are quite a lot of (cheap) underwater housings for iPhones nowadays of which I had bought one recently (the ‘amphibian waterproof case’). I tried it out holding it under a tap with distilled water (if it would leak there would not be any damaging salts at least) and that seemed to work. I later saw a patch of moisture but this was minimal condensation that did not seem to any harm. The case:

IMG_3402The water seemed quite a bit less cold the second time around and the visibility was slightly better as well. However, Castle beach is exposed and the wave action results in a lot of debris (such as pieces of dead seaweed). Also, it seemed that some of the seaweeds were already ‘over the hill’; the Harpoon weed often seemed discolored for instance and not that pretty anymore. I have noticed the proliferation and die back of some seaweeds before and it makes sense that there is some seasonal succession (I will keep tabs on the growth of the different species month-by-month in an excel spreadsheet). It should have come as no surprise that my plan of taking crisp, brightly colored underwater pictures with my iPhone in a flimsy case turned out to result in blurry, out of focus and badly composed shots, but it was still a bit disappointing. Some of the least crap ones:

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It was quite neat to sea mermaids purses (ray or shark egg cases): bright white and fat (i.e. alive) instead of the black and empty wrinkled ones you find on the beach. I have no idea what species they are but they seemed relatively common and I only found them attached to my favorite, the Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia. *edit, most probably eggs of the Nursehound (or Bull huss) Scyliorhinus stellaris.* I also tried some quick shots in the rock pools as the water is more clear there, but the pictures did not turn out to be too great in there either:

IMG_3470Although quite cheap and -knock on wood- safe, the iPhone case is not a substitute for a real underwater camera. All pictures turned out quite hazy (although this was certainly also due to the bad water conditions). At times it is hard to operate the touch pad and there isn’t a cord to attach it to your wrist which makes the experience a bit less relaxed. I have a Panasonic Lumix that can go 10 meters deep and an old Canon Powershot with an underwater housing which seem to do better (although neither of them in turn can be compared to a SLR in an underwater housing). I will try to explicitly compare some shots with these cameras soon. Next time I go snorkeling I will also try a less exposed spot where visibility will hopefully be better.