Feather Stars in Bretagne

Last week I was on holiday in Bretagne (Brittany), France. There was not a lot of opportunity for snorkelling or rock pooling activities, but the last day I checked out the pontoons of the large marina in Trinité-sur-Mer. I was not disappointed; the pontoons in Cornwall are full of life, but these ones 200 or so kilometers further south were exceptionally diverse. The most striking find was that of orange, red and purple Rosy feather stars Antedon bifida. These also occur in the UK but I had not seen these yet here so I was quite excited. I did not go into the water myself and the photos I took holding my camera under ended up being not great so I took some shots from above water as well, too bad I did not have more time!The first photo below gives a good impression of how abundant and diverse life attached to these pontoons is. Many species are the same as the ones I see in Mylor marina, including invasive species such as the Bryozoan Bugula neritina and the tunicate Styela clavata. In addition to the many sponges, anemones, mussels, oysters and colonial tunicates I even saw things such as scallops (not sure which species) and urchins (Psammechinus). The peacock worms were absolutely huge. The plumose anemones Metridium senile looked different to the ones I am used to here to with orange individuals having brown collars which sometimes were really big and wavy. It seems no one that moors their boat in a marina ever takes notice of what is attached to the pontoons, but they should, as the diversity and beauty can almost rival coral reefs. I hope I can go back one time to properly investigate but for now I will check out the local marina’s and keep an eye out for feather stars…

Hong Kong

IMG_4654Last 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. DSC00195So 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: DSC00201Back 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.IMG_4511IMG_4512IMG_4626IMG_4507I 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.    IMG_5384My 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!IMG_5410 IMG_5422After 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.IMG_5490 IMG_5529IMG_5496IMG_5466IMG_5454IMG_5517IMG_5488

Oregon

Bobs creek wayside.tifLast month we had a great holiday travelling from San Francisco to Seattle. Nature here is awe-inspiring for the average European; we saw snowcapped volcanoes, giant redwoods, dunes, beaches, mighty rivers and temperate rainforest. This is not the place for a travelogue, however, rock pools were of course checked and that is prime blog material! We had a bit of a happy-go-lucky approach to travelling and I had not checked tide times beforehand. Turns out that the tides on the Pacific West coast work very differently than those in Western Europe: instead of two almost equally low tides a day, there is a proper low tide and a not so low tide, how inconvenient! (This page has a good overview of tide types, including another type with only one low- and one high tide a day.) In the end I had two early mornings on the Oregon coast for rock pooling: Bob’s Creek Wayside south of Yachats (pic above) and Seal Rock north of Waldport (see map). (I actually prefer the more appropiate American term ‘tide pooling’ as of course there are also (freshwater) rock pools that do not experience tides.) The coast in most of Europe is so much more densely populated it is almost strange to see that vast stretches of pristine coastline with hardly any people around, brilliant. Also, the vast amounts of driftwood and logs is almost unseen in Europe, as thewhole  continent is pretty much deforested (especially in the UK, my guess is only places like Norway could be comparable in that respect).IMG_4780IMG_4852IMG_4441Being at the Pacific Northwest tide pools made me feel like a kid in a sweetshop: I could not decide to stick with a beautiful find or try to move on to the next exciting thing. It seemed a bit useless to just start documenting all the different species in the short amount of time I had. Instead I mainly enjoyed just looking around, especially admiring the Green surf anemones Anthopleura xanthogrammica (above). I know this species mainly from the Coldwater Marine Aquarium Owner group on facebook which has many North American members. Although the diversity of animals and seaweeds in the South West of the UK is amazing, I must admit I am always a bit jealous of the critters in Pacific Northwest tanks! The Green surf anemones are not only strikingly coloured and large, but also incredibly common, along with the Aggregating anemone Anthopleura elegantissima forming dense carpets on the rocks, inhabiting gulleys low on the shore to tide pools quite high on the shore.

I had taken the plunge and ordered a new camera for this holiday, a Canon G16 with a Fantasea underwater housing (see this post). However, I did feel comfortable with it in its bulky housing yet and so reverted to the more basic Canon powershot D30 and my iPhone for these sessions instead. I saw a couple of the large nudibranchs Hermissenda crassicornis as well as a Janolus fuscus, very pretty. Also below a Lined (or striped) shore crab Pachygrapsus crassipes and an unidentified prawn. Otherwise, most of the photo’s turned out to be not that great; I was just too hasty!IMG_4638IMG_4621IMG_4467IMG_4428Although all species were different (except for the Plumose anemones Metridium senile I saw on some pontoons), it was interesting to see the parallels with Cornish rock pools. For instance, all seaweed colours, shapes and textures I knew from home were present here, just in different combinations in each species. There were noticeable differences too. For one, many of the American organisms (chitons, isopods, anemones) are much bigger. The rocks were almost completely covered in barnacles and mussels (again both huge). Seagrass (Phyllospadix) was growing from the rocks!

Two mornings of rock pooling in a three week holiday was not enough, but all that was manageable unfortunately. We however also visited the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport on the single rainy day we had and that was pretty good. I am not a big fan of  the generic aquarium displays (sharktunnels, ‘nemo’s’, scary Moray eels etc) so it was nice to see mainly coldwater aquaria, especially the nanoaquariums that housed a jumble of sponges, anemones, barnacles, chitons and strange fish, such as one of my favourites, the Grunt sculpin Rhamphocottus richardsonii which camouflages as a giant barnacle (first photo, see also here). A touch pool contained sea cucumbers, huge abalones and the largest chiton species in the world, the Giant Pacific (or Gumboot) chiton Cryptochiton stelleri, humongous! I hope one day to be back in this beautiful part of the world.IMG_4024 IMG_4021IMG_4043IMG_4041

tropical seaweed aquariums

The focus of the blog has recently been on rock pooling a lot more than on my aquarium, as unfortunately it has been in a state of limbo for months now. I received my new LED retrofit kit a while back, but have been caught in the unholy triangle of being busy, hopelessly technically unsavvy and prone to procrastinate. Although the LED kit was solderless (easy), the dimmer to go with it was not (not very easy). I asked my local sparky but he managed to only make it halfway through the installation and I am now waiting for someone else to drop by to help out. I am really curious what the LEDs will look like and desperate to go from the current unlit disgrace in the living room to a nice tank again (especially now I have a chiller as well).

So in the mean time this post about tropical seaweed aquariums I found whilst trawling the internet. Although there are few aquarium blogs, there are many aquarium diaries on forums. Just a couple of those are devoted to seaweed aquariums (for examples see here and here). The first one I found on this thread (not much information on species) is a stunning looking tank mixing corals and seaweeds:

tropseawead1 I found a similarly impressive tank on the nano-reef forum, which has a special section on macroalgae, eelgrass and mangroves:IMG_3874Absolutely beautiful seaweeds (follow the link to see many more pictures and a species list). Apparently, there are several aquarium retailers that sell tropical seaweeds; the ones in this aquarium came from LA Reefs and Gulf Coast Ecosystems, which have large collections of many very interesting species. (See for an amazing, unidentified, iridescent seaweed this picture and this video.) Gulf Coast Ecosystems has an especially large collection of seaweeds from Florida with good descriptions of their requirements, see for example this page on the very distinct green alga Acetabularia. It even has a short guide on how to keep seaweeds in the aquarium. After some more browsing, including on the marine plants and macroalgae forum at Reef Central, I found that there were actually quite some suppliers of tropical species, for instance reefs2go, aquacon and reefcleaners. Another stunning tank:

reefThis one is a bit more conventional with many corals and seaweed species that are quite often encountered in ‘normal’ reef tanks such as Caulerpa. Caulerpa species can actually turn into a nuisance as they can grow very fast. Moreover, it can enter the sexual part of its lifecycle causing cloudy water (lots of threads are dedicated to these problems). This aquarium also features a little mangrove seedling, which is often used in sumps (as are green seaweeds such as Caulerpa and Chaetomorpha) to remove nutrients from the water. Looking at these pictures I am almost tempted to go for a tropical aquarium, as it allows both corals and seaweeds. However, I’ll stick to my native beasties that I can collect (and put back) myself, which is half the fun. Perhaps I’ll post another time about eelgrass aquariums. I have seen a bunch of tropical examples but it would in theory be possible to have a cold water seagrass aquarium as well. Hopefully my LEDs will soon be fixed so I can post about my own aquarium instead though.

Grevelingen

Two weekends ago I was back in The Netherlands for a short visit. The weather was great and we drove in my sisters camper van to the Brouwersdam, connecting the provinces of Zuid-Holland and Zeeland. This dam was built in 1971 and created the largest saltwater lake in Western Europe: the Grevelingen. We first stopped at the North Sea side of the dam though. This is spot is very popular with kite surfers, windsurfers and blokarters, with loads of people travel all the way from Germany even. Although great for sports, the Dutch coast is not the best place for a rock pool hunter (an bollenessor!) such as myself. The Brouwersdam provides hard substrate along an otherwise sandy coast, but there are no true rock pools and relatively few species of seaweed (mainly wracks and Ulva), some mussels and periwinkles and not much else:

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However, this seaweed looked interesting (I also found it in Bretagne recently), but I just cannot get it identified, any suggestions?

*edit* commenter Edwin reckons Chordaria flagelliformis and this was indeed the page in my Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland where I lingered longest, I think he is right!

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On the way back we stopped at the Grevelingen side. The Grevelingen is an unusual place: the water is salty, but there are no tides. There is only a very limited connection to the North Sea and so little water movement, which creates stratification and anoxic conditions in deeper waters, resulting in a  ‘dead zone’. In shallower water there is plenty of life though (check this site for instance). We waded on mud through very clear water to have a quick look (mud is not stirred up by any current and the lack of any inflowing rivers keep the water relatively nutrient poor en algae-free) . There were many Shore crabs about, and they were quite aggressive, trying to pinch my toes:

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I saw that Wireweed Sargassum muticum is very common here as well (see also this post and this post). These very large plants were colonized by fine red seaweeds and lots of Mysis shrimp were hiding underneath them:

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I also stopped by the natural history museum in Rotterdam that I have been a member of over half of my life. I noticed that in their permanent ‘Biodiversity’ exhibition that there was a shelf dedicated to seaweeds. Of course they deserve a place in such an exhibit, but I must admit that they look a whole lot more interesting in the sea than dried or in alcohol/formalin.

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Bretagne: Pleneuf-Val-Andre – part 2

In addition to animals, loads of different seaweed species could be found washed up on the beach in Pleneuf-Val-Andre:

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Some of the species would look great in the aquarium I am sure. For instance Fine-veined crinkle weed Cryptopleura ramosa:IMG_4658

Pestle weed Gigartina pistillata:IMG_4613Maybe a Plocamium species, I am not sure. I really like my Seasearch Guide to Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland, but it does not contain a key and I find it hard to determine some species based on a photograph.IMG_4616What would be great is to have a seaweed key app. I saw a great one this weekend for trees: leaf snap: take a picture of a leaf with your phone or tablet and it automatically gives you a list of best hits based on the outline (and perhaps colour, I don’t know), it worked really well. Seaweeds (actually pretty much all organisms) are too complex in shape, size and color for this. However, I could see an app working where the first screen would give you a number of pictograms, eg ‘dark encrusting reds’, ‘chalky reds’, ‘feathery reds’, ‘fan-shaped reds’ etc. After touching a first pictogram, new ones would appear, for instance to select the branching pattern, ‘irregular’, ‘whorled’, ‘opposite’ or ‘alternate’ and so on. Instead of such a purely dichotomous approach, it could also be possible to be presented with a wide variety of pictograms describing different properties (eg, colour, overall shape, texture, location on the shore), where it is possible to skip properties you are unsure about and still go ahead with the next steps. This would be a brilliant resource and help me identifying weeds such as this one:IMG_4585Anyway, a final seaweed (there were many, many more but this one I immediately recognized): Sugar Kelp Saccharina latissima. It is surrounded by various species of flat and tubular Sea Lettuce Ulva:IMG_4577

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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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!