100th post: iPhone macro pics

When publishing the last post, I noticed that the next one would be the 100th; I have been quite the blogger the last year-and-a-half! Although this is a pretty obscure blog, it is still fun to see that people from all over the world (Bosnia, Jemen, Maldives, Cape Verde) check it out. It takes a bit of time writing posts, but it has been a good way to take stock of what I have seen and learned, much better than just having a folder with pictures on my computer. It has even brought me in touch with some fellow enthusiasts. For this post I made a Picasa album of a bunch of rock pooling macro pictures I took with my iPhone 4S + olloclip lens (not the cheapest macrolens for the phone but it is worth every penny). The majority of them have been featured on the blog at some point. The two pictures below haven’t: a Black shields lichen Tephromela atra and some Thick-lipped dogwhelks Nassarius incrassatus. The complete album can be found HERE.IMG_0278

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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

Two starfish videos

I have started a youtube ‘An Bollenessor’ account to be able to embed some of my short iPhone videos here*. First my favourite the Cushion star Asterina gibbosa. My aquarium is more or less empty at the moment, but I still have five of these around. A short movie made with my olloclip macrolens showing how these little starfish move about using their tube feet:

I went out snorkeling yesterday in the mouth of the Helford river (in the rain). A very beautiful spot, I’ll post some pictures of it when I am back and it is sunny. It was high tide and the visibility was bad so I had to dive five meters or so to have a closer look at the Seagrass. I did not see that much but I did spot a Sand star Astropecten irregularis for the very first time. A very beautiful starfish with purple tips and very long tube feet. I took it home and placed it in the aquarium, after which it did what it does best: digging itself in:

*= I use Microsoft Moviemaker to upload files, so had to use my Microsoft account in addition to my Google account, a bit of a hassle. Anyway, it should be easier next time now everything has been set up. For the next videos I will make sure to clean the glass. I probably also should buy a gorillapod to keep my phone still.

Piran aquarium

I have a love/hate relationship with public aquariums: love because I am a bit aquarium-mad, and hate because quite a lot of them really are disappointing. Of course, I know all too well that it is not easy to create (and maintain) good-looking aquariums. Also, the paying public needs to be pleased and it wants to see ‘nemo’s’ and sharks which often results in the same sets of standard tanks. Although I do understand the need to educate the public, I am quite allergic to all kinds of video installations and boring props taking up space that could have been filled with tanks. I am not even talking about walkways decorated with fake polyurethane caverns or ornamental treasure chests in tanks…

I try to visit public aquariums whenever possible and from now on will review them on this blog, specifically highlighting the smaller, temperate saltwater tanks that could serve as inspiration. Last week I was in Slovenia for work and a short holiday and passed by the lovely town of Piran which has a small (about 10 large and 10 small tanks) public aquarium, all with local animals. Here is one funky looking tank housing some writhing moray eels and Grey triggerfish Balistus capriscus, the latter also present in Cornish seas:

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I am not so sure about larger-sized Mediterranean Sea aquariums, as there is not a lot of potential to make them visually appealing: some rocks and the odd human implement as decoration and the fish are often not overly spectacular (see the Two-banded bream Diplodus vulgaris below). If I were to go for a large, non-planted rock tank, I would try my hand at an African Great Lake aquarium instead, with the fish being more diverse, more interesting and more beautifully colored.

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 One of the largest fish on display was the Leerfish Lichia Amia. It was a shame to see such a large pelagic fish in a tank with its head completely deformed due to it bumping against the glass:

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I was most interested in the smaller aquariums. These housed some species that can also be found in Cornwall, such as the Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine and the fantastic John Dory Zeus faber (which occurs around the globe):

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Some of the small aquariums were quite sweet. No seaweeds to speak of (although I saw some Ball algae Codium bursa) but lots of nice invertebrates such as sea cucumbers, clams, whelks, sponges, anemones as well as a variety of fish:

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Especially amazing was the stony coral Astroides calycularis:

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A Small rockfish Scorpaena notata:

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All in all an interesting little visit (I had to rush a bit taking pics as the rest of the family is not as keen on ‘the mysteries of the deep’ as I am…). Lots of types of invertebrates that I would like to try to keep such as sea cucumbers, but for the moment I will focus on seaweeds. I had no time to have a proper look at the rocks outside (the Mediterranean has very small tide differences anyway) and I had not even brought my snorkel. From the glances I got, the Adriatic coast did not have much on the Cornish coast though!

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.

Sea mats

A close-up of the Sea mat Membranipora membranacea taken with my olloclip macrolens for the iPhone. This Bryozoan forms colonies on flat seaweeds. Each rectangular chamber (cuticle) houses an individual zooid. Each zoid feeds on plankton using a lophophore, a group of ciliated tentacles. Zoids differentiate into specialized types, for feeding, cleaning the colony surface or as brood chambers for embryos.

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A close-up of the Hairy sea mat Electra pilosa, a species very common under rocks:

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introduction

Hello! For the last half year or so, I have been messing with a marine aquarium housing sea weeds and critters collected from local rock pools here in Cornwall. I thought it would be fun to blog about my aquarium project, especially after I discovered that it is quite easy to take nice aquarium pictures using an iPhone (which I found nearly impossible using a standard digital camera). After doing some internet research, I settled on a Red Sea Max 130D ‘plug-and-play’ aquarium (I will post about the actual tank later). I could not find much information on the web on temperate marine tanks, especially ones without a chiller or a sump. and few of those seem to focus on seaweeds. So who knows I may have found a niche. Below I have posted some pictures from when I was setting it up last year:

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Half a bucket of gravel collected from a nearby beach, RO water taken home from the lab where I work (carried back 2×10 L at the time, the tank is 130 L) mixed with a free bucket of sea salt that came with the tank. Few sea weeds and not too many rocks. I have since replaced the rocks with bigger ones; most critters are benthic and you do not want to have too much ‘open water’ around with nothing in it. Although too bare, I do like the purple look of this set-up, which has since disappeared because of inevitable algae taking over from the purple crustose seaweeds.

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A shanny Lipophrys pholis, this is a very common fish around here that can easily be picked up when turning stones at low tide. The branched seaweed on the left is Solier’s red string weed Solieria chordalis; in the back on the right there is a little pluck of Berry wart cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius.

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A snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis. Behind it some Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens. This weed died off quite quickly; first it turned a bright orange, then white.

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The Star ascidian Botryllus schlosseri, a colony-forming tunicate. It did not survive for too long, but that might just have been because the particular broad-leaved red seaweed they grew on are very popular with prawns and hermit crabs. What animals and sea weeds do well has been trial and error. I might compile a list of ‘easy’ species and ones to avoid at some point.