First proper snorkel session of the year

GyllingvaseThis Thursday was only sunny, but also not windy, with a good low tide in the early afternoon, which meant I reserved a few hours to go to Tunnel/Castle/Gylly beach for some snorkelling. The photo above shows Gylly Beach, with the start of Swanpool lagoon behind it and the Lizard in the far distance. (I took this with my iPhone using a Hipstamatic filter; for more iPhone pics of Cornwall see cornwall_hipsta on instagram…). The water temperature was OK (9C?) but the viz was not as good as I hoped. The seaweeds are at their peak now and the pools looked very pretty. Not many fish, but I saw a small brown thing floating around which I first thought was Sea hare, but turned out to be a small (perhaps a Connemara) clingfish lazing about until it noticed me and bolted into the seaweeds. I carefully snorkelled in about half a meter of water, admiring the views and trying to take photos close-up (as the viz was not too good) with my wide angle wetlens. Below an above-water shot of some iridescent Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and the invasive red Bonnemaisonia hamifera (on the left). I need to go back studying photography basics. A main challenge is contrast. The pools have beautiful white sand, which result in hugely overexposed photos (or completely darkened subjects). I have come up with my own law, the Photography Frustration Index (PFI): the beauty of the subject (B) x the difficulty of capturing it (D). The PFI is very high in the case of seaweeds! Next: Bushy rainbow wrack under Thong weed, Purple claw weed Cystoclonium purpureum, Bushy berry wrack Cystoseira nodulosum covered with the epiphytes Asparagopsis (left) and Bonnemaisonia (right), Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata (you can see they grow in the sand and must be used to scouring) a ‘bouquet’ of different species (with a snakelocks anemone) and a last photo of a variety of species, including the common False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. The tides and weather conditions are unfavourable the coming days but I hope to go snorkeling again end of the week!IMG_9393

over-unders

It was cold last Thursday, but I had a window to go to the shore at low tide so I did. Optimistically, I went in full snorkel gear, but when I arrived I could not muster the courage to stick my head underwater! (5 degrees, water probably 9 degrees). So I waded in kneedeep and held my camera underwater to try some ‘over-under’ or split-shots’, with both the underwater- and above-water world in view. This is tricky using a wetlens, as there is water between the housing and the lens, which slowly leaks out when lifting the housing out of the water, resulting in a meniscus. The only way to do it is to be quick and frequently resubmerge the housing and get the lens off and back on. I brought my strobe as well (not attached to a tray but holding it in my other hand). This is crucial, as the above water part gets really over-exposed. I compensated 2 or 3 f-stops to prevent this; the strobe then lights up the even darker below-water part. At least, that was the idea, the strobe often made it too bright underwater (I have a simple ‘TTL’ strobe and not one where the strobe output can be manually adjusted) so I had to fiddle increasing the distance I held it from the camera. Post-processing bringing down the highlights was definitely necessary. Anyway, it was good fun to play around, and some of the shots are half-decent considering the circumstances. I definitely will try this more when it is a bit warmer and I can snorkel and look through the viewfinder. (At the end a conventional shot of a small snakelocks anemone just because it was pretty.)

Carne Beach

I have not been tempted to go back snorkeling yet, but had an hour of nice rockpooling last Saturday, at beautiful Carne Beach on the Roseland Peninsula. I had been here only once before, and found my first stalked jellyfish then. The stalked jellies (Haliclystus octoradiatus) where still there, in different colours: brown, yellow and grey (I will keep to my resolution to record my findings from now on, when I find the time). My old trusted iPhone 4S finally gave up the ghost last week so I upgraded to an iPhone SE which proved a real upgrade. (I was too lazy to bring out the Canon G16 in the underwaterhousing, which would not have been much use anyway as the pools here are very shallow.) The pools were teeming with (mating) polychaete worms and there were many juvenile Sea hares about as well. I saw whole mats of pink wriggling tentacles sticking out of the sand, something I had never seen before. These (most likely) belong to the worm Cirriformia tentaculata, quickly identified by David Fenwick, see here for very good photos of the whole animal on his aphotomarine site in addition to the rather bad snap here. I found a hermit crab inhabiting the shell of a (juvenile) pelican’s foot Aporrhais pespelecani, a species that shares the sandy beach with the razor clams that were washed up all around. The highlight for me were the anemones. Snakelocks and strawberries were common, and in addition to red Beadlet anemones, there were green ones as well (I never see these in Falmouth). Some pools at the edge of the rocks and the beach were filled with Daisy-, Gem- and Dahlia anemones. I am ready for some more seaside adventures, but the weather is rarely cooperating these days. More on the blog soon I hope!

Practising Fish Photography

This Thursday afternoon was quite bright with low tide still in the ‘OK’ range, however it was quite gusty, resulting in bad viz. As seaweed photography was not an option, I opted to lie down in a midshore rockpool and look at things up close instead. There are a surprising amount of fish in rock pools when you stick your head in and so I chose to have a go photographing them. Most common were Corkwing wrasse, but these are very shy. A pair of Two-spotted gobies Gobiusculus flavenscens hung around a ledge and were easier to photograph. Still tricky though as my standard settings result in limited depth of field; I need to play around with the aperture next time. I will also bring my strobe and videolight to try to bring out the colours more. I tried a split-shot which half-worked but you really need a wide angle dome port for that (not a ‘wet’ wide angle lens). You can see the steps leading from the tunnel entrance to the shore.Two-spotted gobies hover above the substrate instead of lying on it as most other goby species do, but you can see they are very well camouflaged against the corraline algae. Two Tompot blennies Parablennius gattorugine swam up to me. These are the least shy of all the rock pool fish (their cousin the Shanny did not come very close) and easy to photograph as they kept checking me out, striking all kinds of different poses. I need to try to photograph these with my macrolens next time. I turned over a stone and found a Long-spined sea scorpion Taurulus bubalis, these keep very still and are also easy to photograph. Prawns were of course around and are actually really pretty with blue and yellow legs and striped body. Finally a shot of seaweeds in this pool showing fresh growth of many red species and a shot with green Cladophora showing limited visibility due to wave action. Btw, I see this is the 200th post on the blog!

Falmouth Seaweeds: End of April

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:

Scarlet and gold star coral Balanophyllia regia

David Fenwick (Aphotomarine), Matt Slater (Shoresearch Cornwall) and Thomas Daguerre (HydroMotion Media) had all tipped me off about the elusive ‘Cave of Dreams’ at Pentire/Fistral Beach in Newquay. Recent posts by Cornish Rock Pools and The Marine Enthusiast reminded me of the stunning Scarlet and gold star coral Balanophyllia regia that live there and made me decide to drive all the way (well, it is a good 45 minutes) to the North Coast. I did not find the cave on two earlier visits (see this post from almost exactly one year ago), but today Thomas showed me exactly where it was. Cave is a big word, it is more of an overhang, and I don’t think I would have ever managed to discover it myself (you can find a photo of it behind the aphotomarine link). The corals are tiny, 5-10 mm in diameter, but there are many of them, in the low hundreds. Unlike most corals, this species relies solely on catching food with its tentacles, and it does not have algal symbionts (zooxanthellae) to provide energy from photosynthesis. Dark ‘caves’ with lots of waterflow are thus a good habitat for them. They look a  bit like the tropical sun corals, who I was lucky to see in Hong Kong last year, and which are quite popular in the reef aquarium hobby. I had to carefully position myself on the rocks, dipping my camera in the water. It was too shallow to stick my head in, and I did not want to enter the water anyway, to prevent disturbing this widespread, but uncommon species. There were some interesting sponges (one of them Polymastia boletiformis) and red seaweeds, but I decided to only focus (no pun intended) on the corals. I was quite excited, this is definitely one of the most interesting species I have seen so far in Cornwall and I am sure that many people would be amazed to learn that corals live on our shores. I played around with my wide-angle lens, my new macro lens and took shots without the wet lenses. The light was low and I had to contort myself a bit but some of the shots turned out nice. The macro is still difficult, but maybe I might be expecting too much from the setup I have (without strobes). I hope to go back soon and try to get more photos, I would love to try an underwater panorama shot!

 

Stalked Jellyfish: the Stauromedusae

img_9949 img_9983img_0078bI now am the proud owner of a nauticam CMC wetlens. It arrived too late for my first encounter with a nudibranch this year, however, it came just in time for a proliferation of stalked jellyfish. These tiny (around one centimeter), sessile relatives of jellyfish are not very well-known, but seem to be getting more popular, see for some other recent finds the other local blogs Cornish Rock Pools and The Marine Enthusiast. To find them, you need to carefully scan seaweeds in rock pools (they are not very picky when it comes to which species they attach themselves to). The key resource for UK (European even) rock poolers is David Fenwick’s Stauromedusae website. Above, the most common species, the Spotted kaleidoscope jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus, recognizable by the primary tentacles or anchors (the white ‘balls’ inbetween the tentacles). Below, St. John’s stalked jellyfish Calvadosia cruxmelitensis, with a zoomed out photo and finger nail to give an idea of scale. Finally, two not so good photos of a third species Calvadosia campanulata taken above-water as these were located just below the surface. One more species can be found on mainland Cornwall (the Goblet stalked jellyfish Craterolophus convolvulus) and one on the Scillies (the Horned stalked jellyfish Lucernaria quadricornis, but who knows this species is also present on the mainland). So some more searching to do! img_0392img_0404img_0408img_0122img_0134

Upper Shore Pool

img_9490-copyThe 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…).img_9502img_9483Next 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.img_9527img_9583img_9568img_9597img_9522img_9492

Coralline Algae

img_7483Coralline algae, pink and purple, feathery or encrusting, are a conspicuous part of the local rock pools. When viewed close up, even the crusts are not boring, as they reveal little stalks and holes forming reproductive structures. The above species could be Common pale paint weed Lithophyllum incrustans or Common purple paint weed Phytamoliton purpureum; it is hard to tell species apart and there are likely more species than the few described on websites or in books. In the third photo, the thinner crusts are probably Phymatolithon lenormandii. Only when looking at close-up photos it becomes apparent that juvenile limpets (Patella spp) and White tortoise shell limpets Tectura virginea are very common.img_7858 img_7880 img_7558Coralline algae are desirable in tropical reef aquariums, as they cover the brownish live rock in pretty colors. There are even special supplements for sale to promote their growth. They need low phosphates and sufficent calcium (as well as magnesium) to grow well, just as hard corals do. Good light helps, although there are also species that thrive under low light. I have a bit of coralline algae in my tank, but only in spots with high flow, so that seems important too. It might be a nice experiment to take a small tank, with a good light source and a decent pump (with rowaphos to keep phosphates down), and add some coralline algae-covered rocks to see what happens. Doing frequent 100% water changes will replenish calcium and magnesium, and not adding animals and food will keep nutrient levels minimal. With some interesting rock formations, it could develop into something pretty.img_8260img_9131img_8857The species Titanoderma pustulatum grows on other seaweeds, such as Irish moss Chondrus crispus on the photo above. Pink plates Mesophyllum lichenoides are coralline algae that are very common on the mid- and lower shore here in Falmouth. They look a bit like a miniature version of Montipora corals. At the moment, some individuals are covered in knobbly reproductive structures housing spores. Pink plates grows epiphytically on Common coral weed Corallina officinalis, the species that makes up the bulk of the coralline algae in the rock pools (see second photo of this post, on the right). Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens is also quite common at the moment. Corallina and Jania can be seen growing side by side in the second-last photo. Jania here grows epiphytically on Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus (this species is normally fuzzy but in winter the branches are bare and slender). I hope to go diving soon and take more photos of the most ‘spectacular’ coralline algae: maerl.img_9531 img_9570img_9307img_9630img_9619

some more January Seaweed photos

img_9458It is my plan to post photos of seaweeds from one large rock pool in Falmouth every month. As I am making good on my new year’s resolution of going out to the beach, I have some more photos to post before it is February though. I am slowly learning to take better photos, but will also post ones that are not that great to cover more species. Below, Club bead- or Feathery tube weed Lomentaria clavellosa, the small epiphyte Little fat sausage weed Champia parvula (heavily cropped, I need a macro lens!) and Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticillata (with some of the edible Dulse Palmaria palmata on the left of it).img_9456img_9240img_9334I found quite a few more species but the photos ended up a bit meh, so I will have to go back and try harder. Below, two that ended up quite nice. Serrated wrack Fucus serratus covered with a variety of red epiphytes and a piece of washed up Sea oak Halidrys siliquosa.img_9326 img_9383