This Sunday we went on a lovely walk from Helford Village to St. Anthony in Meneage on the south coast of the Helford river. The tide was very low, so we decided to follow the mud flats for a bit before heading to the woodlands. The mud flats are a brown-grey and strewn with shells, pebbels and, unfortunately, litter. Not as pretty as the rock pools, but still interesting. There were small banks with mussels, cockels, slipper limpets and oysters, both the native oyster Ostrea edulis (quite some juveniles) as well as the invasive Pacific (or Portuguese) oyster Magallana gigas. Of course also the abundant, barnacle-covered periwinkles Littorina litorea. I saw my first Auger shell Turritella communis (which does not reflect rarity at all, just the fact that I usually stick to rocky shores); the small shells around it are Needle whelks Bittium reticulatum. Finally a Chinaman’s hat (probably no longer the prefered nomenclature!?) Calyptraea chinensis.We met up with David Fenwick and partner-in-crime Carol who were busy sampling around Treath. David’s interest was caught by a mooring rope covered in seasquirts, and a boxful was collected for careful examination under the microscope later. The clump I am holding below shows the Compass seasquirt Asterocarpa humilis (red, middle) (invasive), Morchellium argus (orange, top) (native), the Dirty seasquirt Ascidiella aspersa (three grey ones) (native) and the Creeping seasquirt Perophora japonica (tiny yellow zoids connected by stolons growing over the Ascidiella) (invasive). Astonishingly, by the next day, in a single tupperware box filled with muddy seasquirts, David had found 70 species! (With 142 species recorded in total on the day.) To finish this post full of grey blobs and brownish molluscs, I am adding photos David made of four out of nine species of Heterobranchs (Nudibranchs ‘proper’ as well as Ophistobranchs) present in the sample. Stunning images and proof that there is tremendous biodiversity to be found on a muddy bank if you know how to look for it. More of David’s nudibranch work is featured in this old post. See for his continously expanding collection of images, from seaweeds to fish and from tiny marine fungi to stranded seaturtles, aphotomarine.com.
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 Pleurobranchus membranaceus 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.
A quick snorkel this Tuesday to check out my favourite rock pools at Castle Beach here in Falmouth. The tide was low, the water still and the sun was shining, creating beautiful shimmers of light. The Wireweed, Thong weed, Sea lettuce and also the Bushy rainbow wrack are in full swing, but most of the other species are in decline, with for instance the Harpoon weed and False Eyelash weed bleaching. Still, it is very pretty! The most common fish encountered so far this year have been Two-spot Gobies, with the occasional wrasse or dragonet. Now, loads of juvenile Pollack Pollachius pollachius have appeared (ID thanks to the excellent folk at the Seasearch Cornwall facebook page). The following photos are all variations on the same theme; I could not decide which ones were best so I just posted the whole lot: In the photo above you can make out some Snakelocks anemones on the right; compare with the last two photos of this post from six weeks ago to see how the same scene has changed. The stalked jellyfish seem to have largely disappeared along with the decline of seaweeds. However, you can still spot the odd interesting animal. The photo below is of the small gastropod Mangelia costata. Probably not very rare, but small (<15 mm) and well-hidden and so not that often seen:
The last day of January I took an hour to explore a pool at the upper part of Castle Beach. The resulting shots turned out a lot better than they did the last time. As most of the pools are bare rock, there are no problems with sand/silt, but they are very shallow and on the receiving end of drainage pipes resulting in rain water mixing with the salt water, affecting visibility (this is not necessarily bad as it can make a photo more interesting). It was overcast and I did not experience problems with overexposure; I actually found that tweaking in Photoshop made the photos look worse. Below a Beadlet anemone Actinia equina, the most common anemone on rocky shores. They can be bright red or a drab brown (the green version is rare here) but have bright blue beadlets, or more technically acroraghi. These contain stinging nematocsysts used in territorial fights. After that a small Daisy anemone Cereus pedunculatus, which are usually more mottled in appearance (and not common here, or perhaps I do not know how to look for them…).Next up, a red growth which I should have investigated further, I am not even sure if it is a sponge or something else. After that, a worn Thick top shell Osilinus lineatus, a young Dumont’s tubular weed Dumontia contorta, a red Banded pincer weed Ceramium sp. happily producing oxygen and finally Patella limpets covered in Brown limpet paint Ralfsia verrucosa.
More photography practice lately. I have started to use Photoshop to post-process images, which is hard. I have sat with Thomas Daguerre for a session which was very helpful. For some images, the twiddling is of not much use; the image above of a Bull huss egg case for instance I am pretty happy with as is. Below I have pasted some before and after-Photoshop photo’s. Mostly adjusting highlights and contrast, cropping and playing around with sharpness (in the RAW files), most images tend to be a bit reddish. I have not bothered to tackle the ‘marine snow’ with the Spot Healing brush tool. First, Snakelocks anemones, next, Cocks’ comb Plocamium, then Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata and an old kelp holdfast covered in feeding Grey topshells Gibbula cineraria. On and under the seaweeds I encounter many interesting tiny animals, but it is hard to take good photo’s without a macrolens. I have pasted a couple photo’s below (none have been edited in any way): the Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus (these can also be reddish or brownish, and can be found on a wide variety of seaweeds), a sponge, a juvenile Snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis (next to a Flat top shell Gibbula umbilicalis) and the Star ascidian Botryllus schlosseri where I later noticed the fecal pellets underneath. Pooping tunicates, that is what we need more pictures of!Finally, some more before- and after- Photoshop images. The first is the nudibranch Rostanga rubra (‘Red doris’) which was only 5mm or so (see also the tiny Daisy anemone in the background). I shot it today, very cold: 4 degrees, and the water might have been only 8 degrees, brrrr! Next, a closeup of the seaweed Osmundea (see the first photo of this post) which shows its interesting pigmentation. The photo’s are nothing special yet, but I notice I am making progress. Excitingly, I just have ordered a macro wetlens and so hope to get some proper macro photography going soon!
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 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.
It’s been a few months since I posted about the aquarium. I mentioned in the last update that the tank is a bit empty and this is still the case. Worryingly, several of my anemones (multiple species) have been wasting away, with a small portion of the tentacles first disappearing before they succumb to hungry Cushion stars. I suspect this is a pathogen of some sort; a remote alternative possibility is that the rummaging urchins damage them when passing and I have removed a few just in case (a shame, as they seemed to do really well). I have posted a photo of one of my oldest strawberry anemones in very bad shape (and with a lurking Cushion star near). Nothing I can do about it, I hope it stops! Next a picture of a Dog whelk Nucella lapillus and a Common starfish eating a Turban top shell Gibbula magus.The two stock pumps (and their replacements) had gone a long time ago and the only circulation through the back compartment was caused by my eheim pump connected to the chiller. To get more filtration capacity and flow, I ordered a Red Sea Max replacement pump (£70!!). Handily, it came assembled with reversed in- and outflow outlets, causing the back compartment to flood and water spilling out of the hood onto the electrical sockets. Luckily I could switch it off quickly and nothing bad happened. The flow is much better now. I removed the skimmer as I do not use it (last time I did the pump sounded like it was giving up the ghost anyway). The photo shows the interesting inhabitant I found when removing it after such a long time, a tunicate. I placed the filtration bag in the large back compartment, less through flow but easier to work with (sorry this is getting a bit too involved for the non-aquarium keepers…). Lastly, I prised open the hood and cut the wires of the two fans as they were noisy and with half of my LEDs on the lowest dimmer level, overheating is not an issue. I currently have no seaweeds placed in the aquarium, but a couple of red species are appearing spontaneously, which is the best way. I will set free my two gobies when going on holiday soon. I added three Cornish suckers Lepadogaster lepadogaster recently and, as I feared, have not seen them after, hiding between the rocks (two of them with some worm pipefish on the last snap collecting in Falmouth). Hope to add some interesting new beasties later in summer!
Sunday was a beautiful spring day and we headed out to a new spot: Sandy Acres Beach on St. Ives Bay, North Cornwall. Beautiful dunes and a vast beach with very few people on it! With the kids running amok, I had only very little time to scour the high tide strand line. However, even with only 50 meters or so covered, it was the best bit of beach combing so far. Many cuttlefish bones, bits of Horn wracka and quite large mussels covered in seaweed holdfasts. Below a quick snap. At the bottom, I am not 100% sure, two Thornback ray Raja clavata- a Spotted ray Raja montagui and just above that a tiny Small-spotted catshark Scyliorhinus canicula mermaid’s purses (egg cases, see here for a useful key). Next to the mussel Mytilus edulis, some Hornwrack Flustra foliacea (a Bryozoan), two sponges which might be Mermaids glove and Chocolate finger sponge (thanks Steve Trewhella at the Beachcombing facebook group) and a spiky piece of Sea beard Nemertesia antennina, a hydroid. At the right of that a piece of a whelk Buccinum undatum egg cluster (better pic here). Not a bad haul, looking forward for a proper walk along this beach very soon!
Three weeks back I had to pick someone up from Newquay airport and decided that it would be a good idea to combine that with some rock pooling action on the North Coast. I was told that the Pentire end of Fistral Beach was a good spot for Dahlia anemones and so the decision was made. Unfortunately I did not find any anemones, but it was a beautiful day nonetheless. The relatively few North coast sites I have explored all seem a bit barren in comparison to the South coast: more exposed, with sand meeting scoured rocks, leaving only hardy seaweeds, mussels and beadlet anemones to cling on. I need to spend some more time to find the right spots that’s for sure. The top of the cliff contained some rock pools, but they were quite milky due to the recent weather. They were full of the beautiful Brown tuning fork weed Bifurcata bifurcata (as I was on an anemone hunt, I was hasty and most photos did not come out especially nice, so see this old post for a nice photo of this species). The rocks were very slippery due to the (edible) Laver seaweed Porphyra (front of the next picture).At the base of the cliffs were some gullies, the largest of which is locally known by the rather grandiose name ‘Cave of Dreams’. No major finds here, but it was nice to see the many colour varieties of the Dog whelk Nucella lapillus (egg clusters in the background). The second photo is an especially pretty specimen; I only later noticed the green worm (probably Eulalia viridis) and the reflection in the beadlet anemone of me holding my iPhone! Beadlets are super common here. It is interesting that this species has two main colour varieties (red and green), just like the Snakelocks anemone (green and purplish) and the Plumose anemone (white and orange). This might be a coincidence but I find it intriguing. Lastly, some Sea pink or Thrift Armeria maritima.