Coralline 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. Coralline 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.The 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.
It 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).I 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.
I have not posted as much on the blog as I would have liked this year (in fact, I keep posting less and less: 24 times this year, compared with 33, 46 and 64 posts the previous years). My new year’s resolutions will be to dive more, to go rock pooling more and to blog more. For now, I will post some miscellaneous photos from this year that I did not bother to put on the blog at the time (as I did last year). Below a Beadlet anemone Actinia equina on the beach in St. Ives as well as a young cormorant looking for food taken with my new Canon G16:I caught a number of different fish this year, the first photo shows a small Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita in an aquarium net which were fun to watch in a little aquarium. Next a Longspined scorpionfish Taurulus bubalis caught with my big net off the quay and a Sand smelt Atherina presbyter (see here for a movie). The latter species did not last long in my tank unfortunately. I mentioned in the last aquarium update that a Topknot I caught seemed to have died in the tank too, but I found out it is still there, it just likes to hide behind the rocks.I visited the quirky Victorian Horniman Museum and Aquarium on a trip to London which features lots of stuffed animals and diorama’s which I find quite fascinating. The aquarium part is small; there is some behind the scene coral (sexual) propagation research going on which sounds very interesting. There were two or three coldwater tanks too, the larger tanks were not much too look at (I know how hard it is…) but I really liked the Victorian fountain-style aquarium. A quick snap here; see this video for a nice overview. I would like to collect some Black brittlestars Ophiocomina nigra next year, they can be very abundant at slightly deeper sites.I also visited the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth for a second time. It features the deepest aquarium in the UK, complete with plane wreck and some Sandtiger sharks. I was more interested in the coldwater stuff, of which there was quite a bit. I especially liked the Lesser weever Echiichthys vipera which can be caught on sandy shores; their venomous sting would make handling a bit tricky though. There were some cute pipefish (these need live food and I do not want to commit to that) and a round display with loads of Snakelocks anemones (see the first picture posted on this blog). I have placed a couple of these in my aquarium again, perhaps I need to get a few more, as they are so pretty and easy to keep. I did not manage to get a good shot of the very impressive Wreck fish or Stone bass Polyprion americanus in the large coldwater display unfortunately. Next up a washed up sponge in Falmouth (species unknown) and a live one (Aplysilla sulfurea) under a rock, both taken in Falmouth with my iPhone. I have only been diving a couple of times this year and did not post about the rocky shore dives (here some photos of the maerl and eelgrass beds). I have seen a variety of interesting animals, including cuttlefish, a conger eel and lobsters but next year I hope to go out a bit further and dive a bit deeper to finally see jewel anemones and dead man’s fingers. I am not sure I want to commit to a flash and strobes though, instead I’d like to practice my rock pool (seaweed) photography.
I recently sat down at a very small rock pool high up on the shore on Castle Beach in Falmouth. Just sitting down and concentrating on one square meter for a bit is essential to discover small organisms (see also this old post). If you want to end up with some half-decent photo’s, it is essential to go back several times to the same spot too, so that is what I did. The pools in this spot are very shallow, too shallow to stick your head in and look through the view finder, and often too shallow to even get the camera submerged. Biological diversity this high up the shore is relatively low. Common in these pools are periwinkles, flat top shells and thick top shells, beadlet anemones, prawns and shore crabs, as well as Serrated wrack and a diversity of small red seaweed species.Along with Shanny’s, juvenile Montagu’s blennies Coryphoblennius galerita are very common here (larger individuals must move to deeper pools lower on the shore). I only saw fish between 1.5 and 2.5 cm, tricky to photograph, I need a macro lens! Looking more closely, this tiny pool harboured snakelocks anemones alongside the beadlets, as well as a tiny Gem anemone Aulactinia verrucosa.
I had a few rock pooling sessions recently to play with my new camera (and wide angle lens). The main one was a workshop with North coast-based Thomas Daguerre of Hydro Motion Media (facebook). I am just a beginning photographer and so learning the ropes from an experienced hand proved immensely valuable. The session started with going through some of the basics (white balance, focusing etc), after which we headed out to the rock pools to put some of the theory in practice. We headed down to Thomas’ stomping ground of south Fistral Beach (I visited once before). Although the timing was not the best tide-wise, it was a beautiful day. This was the first time I actually submerged myself in rock pools to take photo’s; of course, being able to look through your view finder is the only way to do it right. It is hard to not stir up sediment though and in some pools salinity gradients made for bad viz. I used Thomas’ G16 setup with video lights and a strobe on a tray (something like this; should have taken a picture of it) which was very difficult! As a result of all the experimentation I ended up with few blog-worthy photos, but this session made clear that trying to capture ‘rock pool scapes’ is what I would like to focus on, the variety of seaweed species, colours and shapes I find especially cool. I really need to try to go back to these pools and try to get better photo’s. I also will arrange a second session with Thomas later in the season to start learning how to post-process RAW files. What was very interesting to see is that the pools here teem with Giant gobies Gobius cobitis, a protected species in the UK. We saw two lying side by side in a crevice but they are shy and it was hard to get a good shot. Thomas has recently made an excellent series of short films highlighting various charismatic local marine species, and one of them features the Giant goby (see the Hydro Motion Media site for the other eleven films):
Friday a week ago I helped out colleagues to collect speciments for the rock pool exhibits of the annual Science in the Square event here in Falmouth. Leaving the house at 05:45 was ‘not ideal’ but seeing Gylly beach lie serenely in the early morning sun this was immediately forgotten. Low tide was not very low at all, and so it was a bit of a struggle to find animals. In the end a variety of crabs, fish and other critters could be collected. I managed to catch a Compass jellyfish and haul it from one end of the beach to the other in a full bucket of water thinking this would be a unique addition, only to find out that five others were already caught. The one really cool find was a little shark stuck in a rock pool. It was a Nursehound Scyliorhinus stellaris, also known as the Large-spotted dogfish, Greater spotted dogfish or Bull huss (distinguishable by the frilly nasal flaps from the smaller species the Small-spotted catshark Scyliorhinus canicula). (Its eggs can be frequently found here, see for instance these older posts.) It was quite dark and hissed a little bit. Way too big to bring back and so it was happily set free.
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.
Last 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).Being 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!Although 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.
I have been a bit busy and so the photos below are some weeks old. The seaweeds are in decline already it seems. Actually, that is not true, there are plenty of seaweeds growing, but some of the prettier ones are dying off and some of the uglier ones are taking over. The window to take the nicest rock pool shots is quite short, pretty much early spring only. The ubiquitous False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata is yellowing, the green Sea lettuce Ulva lactuca is starting to cover everything and the Red grape weed is getting ‘fluffy’. Not the best session photo quality-wise and probably the last of the year. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia is abundant and looking good (on the photo with Discoid forkweed Polyides rotundus) and I managed I nice shot of young Thong (or Spaghetti) weed Himanthalia elongata. I have done some more research into ‘proper’ underwater cameras and was tipped of about the Canon G16 (thanks Thomas from HydroMotion Media), maybe something for next year….The past couple of times when focusing on the seaweeds I also encountered some animals (it is hard not to). Many Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis, with some having very short tentacles. Next, a Decorator crab Macropodia rostrata covered in Banded pincer weed Ceramium. Mermaid’s purses (egg cases) of the Bull huss/Greater-spotted Dogfish/Large-spotted Catshark/Nursehound Scyliorhinus stellaris seem to be exclusively attached to Bushy rainbow wrack. Finally, a Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus on Wireweed Sargassum muticum.