I have been diving three times last week but due to internet problems have not posted about them. I hope to do that in the coming days, but first wanted to blog about this mornings snorkel session in the shallow rock pools at Castle Beach in Falmouth, as I experienced the best viz (visibility) ever here. Apart from the stunning viz, I was very lucky with the fish: I spotted a Tompot blenny, Two-spot Gobies, Fifteen-spined stickleback, Rock goby, Pollack, Ballan-, Corkwing- and Goldsinny Wrasse and Sand eels (above and below). However, I mainly wanted to check what the seaweeds looked like, and things have definitely changed over the last month (see here).The Wireweed Sargassum muticum and Spaghetti (or Thong) weed Himanthalia elongata are thriving and at low tide hang over the surface creating ‘tunnels’. The Harpoonweed below is in decline, turning from pink to yellow-white (and the Bonnemaisonia is almost completely gone). The fronds of the False eyelash weed have turned from juicy and red-brown to wiry and yellow and the corraline algae are turning white. The Sea lettuce Ulva has died back and is covered in speckles (sporangia?). Some epiphytes are thriving, the very fuzzy brown Pylaiella littoralis covers kelp, a Ceramium species grows as pompoms on the Spaghettiweed. One pink and fuzzy species that is growing well I should have taken a closer look at because I am not sure what it is now (I will enquire at the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook group). The next species I think I can identify: Chipolataweed Scytosiphon lomentaria. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia looks fuzzier and greyer than before. Although with less species and more subdued colours, the pools still look beautiful, and I hope the good visibility will last a bit longer!
Blogging slowed down a bit recently due to (variously or simultaniously) bad weather, work, bugs or unavailability of dive buddies. I entered one of the better photos I made this year (from this post) in the BBC Wildlife Magazine competition for fun and managed to get it published in the May issue, which was nice. I think I only went out once, which was a pontoon excursion in Mylor marina, the first time with the Canon G16. I tried some shots from above lying on the pontoon; I need to actually get in the water to get a better view of all the sponges, tunicates, peacock worms, mussels, oysters, anemones and seaweeds encrusting it. This shot of the Light bulb sea squirt Clavelina lepadiformis turned out best, but I believe there is a lot of room for improvement. I have bought a light which I will bring next time. I also ordered a strobe, so hopefully some proper dive photos very soon!
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.
When going out rock pooling, I always take my iPhone and Canon Powershot (for underwater use) and take at least a couple of photos. Because of a lack of time, or because a single good photo is not enough for a new post, not everything ends up on the blog. Now I have some free time, I picked a couple of unused photos made this year that seem blog-worthy. First up, In realized only what I had found on the beach at St. Ives when leafing through the The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline: a Seabeard! This hydroid, Nemertesia antennina, grows as stiff colonies protruding from a matted base and occasionally washes up on shore. It looks a bit plant-like; at the time I did not have the opportunity to have a closer look and just snapped a quick photo. Next a Lesser sandeel Ammodytes tobianus found at Gylly beach. I always see them when snorkeling or diving (see here) but this was a good opportunity to see one up close (I get excited when I spot a dead fish on the beach (see also here) and I am not afraid to admit it!). Following are two colour varieties of the Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis, a Common brittlestar Ophiothrix fragilis and a shot of an Aequorea forskalea (or maybe A. vitrina) jellyfish. Next the gastropod mollusc Chinaman’s hat Calyptraea chinensis. I went back to Mylor marina for some pontooning recently but not much was growing; the only thing that stood out was the luxuriant sponge growth (I am not sure of the species, perhaps Halichondria).And of course some seaweed pictures. By iPhone: Under tongue weed Hypoglossum hypoglossoides in Flushing, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata in St. Agnes and a photo showing a variety of wracks all colonizing the same patch (Flushing): Serrated wrack Fucus serratus, Spiraled wrack Fucus spiralis, Bladderwrack Fucus vesiculosis and Egg wrack Ascophylum nodosum. Next some Canon Powershot underwater pics (see also this post and this one): a random rock pool picture of mostly decaying seaweed, a closeup of my favourite the Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and a shot of Wireweed Sargassum muticum that has completely taken over a pool. Finally an SLR photo of a rock pool at Gylly beach with large Cystoseira baccata plants (middle, Wireweed on the left).
A few weeks back I ordered a GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition, a tiny video camera that is especially popular amongst those that jump of cliffs etc. It comes with a housing that is waterproof up to 40 meters and has excellent video quality. The still images are not so great, you cannot focus or zoom and there is not even a display, although there is an app to control the GoPro using a phone which is very user friendly (the wi-fi connection however is lost as soon as you submerge the camera so you cannot use the phone display to set up underwater shots unfortunately). Of course I will try out the GoPro for diving, but I do not have very high hopes, as there probably will be loads of shaky footage under bad light conditions. Instead, I thought it would be cool to use the time-lapse function in rock pools. I was inspired by the following video:
(For two cool starfish time-lapse films here and here; the BBC ‘Life’ documentary of course is the cream of the crop.) I clipped the GoPro to the plastic baseplate it comes attached to in the packaging and strung that to a lead diving weight using a tie-wrap. The first time-lapse movies turned out OK-ish, the actual video is more impressive quality-wise. It is fun to see all the little gobies but it is obvious that they are not in focus when up close (and too small further away), so probably it is a good idea to bring some frozen artemia to lure them to the best spot. It is obvious that time-lapse works best for slow moving animals such as starfish; fish just flash by, although the nice thing is that you discover that there are many more fish around than you would think from just glancing over rock pools. Actually, it might be nice to try some slow-motion movies of fish using very high frame rates. The short clips I made are not good enough yet too post; the water was full of bits of seaweed, it was quite cloudy and the rock pools in general do not look as nice as they do in spring (lame excuses I know but see the picture below taken at Falmouth a couple of weeks back: it definitely does not look like this at the moment!). I also need to think about different subjects, as macrophotography is not really an option (although this lens might go some way).As a small consolation, I have added two videos from when I was rock pooling in Cameroon a couple of years back (this is a bit of an unusual holiday destination but highly recommended!). I made them using my now defunct Panasonic Lumix (DMC-F10) in very shallow water (<10 cm). Unfortunately I do not know what species of fish these are but they look like awesome aquarium fish (not too many people with a West-African marine biotope aquarium I reckon). The Lumix is not known for great macro but these vids are not bad (I fear this type of movie will not be an option for the GoPro…). I hope to make some cool GoPro videos soon and post them here!
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.I 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:Two 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: