I have been trying to make the most of the seaweed season the past few weeks. This mainly entails lying motionless in two feet of 9C water, taking 100s of pics until my finger refuses to press the shutter lever. It is a lot of fun! Yesterday was a no go unfortunately: the easterlies picked up (there were even surfers in the water which is very rare at Gylly Beach) and the water was very milky. I managed to go a few times last week though and here are some photos of seaweed assemblages with names (there are a few species hidden that I did not bother with, so these do not fully do justice to the biodiversity).
Just a very quick post: went for a snorkel today as the sun was shining; there was some wind so the viz was not the best. Snapped a lot of ‘6’s but I liked the green Ulva lactuca (sea lettuce) and the red Sphaerococcus coronopifolius (berry wart cress). Both are plants (‘Plantae’) and not related to the brown kelp in the background (which is more closely related to potato blight!).
It has been a wile since I last posted. This winter was long and dreary, the sea choppy and grey. I managed to do some rock pooling, and took a bunch of pictures, which I probably should have posted… The good news is that a mishap with my camera housing last year resulted in Olympus giving me a new model housing + a new model camera to fit (OMD EM1 mark 2) AND a new dome, lucky me! Regular readers of this blog know I get very excited in March, as this is when the seaweeds look at their best. This week the tides were low and the wind conditions favourable (the sun was not always out unfortunately), so I made sure to go in the water every day. The water is cold (9C), especially after being in for 2 hours, but it is all worth it. The seaweed growth was lush, with species literally growing on top of each other. I tried to shoot with strobes, but this proved too difficult and switched to natural light. Keeping ISO at 200, I aimed to lower shutter speed to 1/30, managing an F stop of between 5 and 8, depending on cloud cover. I now get the hang of that, but it is difficult to keep photos well-exposed, with enough depth of field and maintain sharpness. Below some examples. I am lazy and will not add seaweed names (but see the Seaweed Gallery page at the top if you are interested). When the tides are low again at the end of next week I hope to go out again!
A while back I was lucky to be one of the two winners of the Hilda-Canter Lund prize (see this post). An exhibition featuring seaweed photography organised by the British Phycological Society at the University of Nottingham has now been opened (outdoors rather than indoors for obvious reasons). The nice thing is that the organisers have also put the exhibit online, if you are interested, please click this link.
Two weeks ago we werelucky to spend a mid-week on St. Martins, one of the Scilly Islands. The Scillies are a group of tiny inhabited and uninhabited islands 28 miles off Lands’ End (before I moved to Cornwall eight years ago, I had never even heard of them…). The water over there is bluer, the sand is whiter and the viz much (much) better than in ‘mainland’ Cornwall, so a true paradise for snorkelling. I tried to get underwater as much as I could, in-between exploring the island (and going to the one pub). As we did not have much time, I mainly snorkelled in the seagrass just off Par Beach. It does not really look like England does it!? The seagrass was teeming with stalked jellyfish. However, because of the great viz I stuck with my fisheye lens, which meant it was tricky to photograph them. This species is Calvadosia campanulata, a protected and generally uncommon species, so worth recording (which I will get on when work is quieter and the weather is crappier). The ID was confirmed by expert David Fenwick, have a look at his excellent site on stalker jellies stauromedusae.co.uk (and his general site for marine species in the SW of the UK aphotomarine.com). Dave also pointed out some other organisms growing on the seagrass seen on these pics: the small red algae Rhodophysema georgei and the slime mold Labyrinthula zosterae (the black bits). As always, I learned something new talking to Dave. Snakelocks anemones were abundant on the seagrass, and the sand inbetween was full of Daisy anemones and Red-Speckled anemones Anthopleura balli (one of my favourites, they do well in my aquarium). As always, I bother crabs by sticking a lens in their face. Bigger Green Shore Crabs Carcinus maenas can get a bit feisty and attack the dome port (maybe because they see their own reflection). Finally a juvenile Straight-nosed Pipefish Nerophis ophidion (about 3 inches), a new one for me. I am always facinated by piepfish (and hope to one day see a seahorse). Unfortunately the shot is not in focus, I really needed a macrolens for this one. Still, you can marvel at the white sand and blue water! Some photos are allright, but I could do a lot better with a bit more time. Luckily we rebooked for a stay in spring already!
After posting this photo on the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic group, I received a lot of positive replies, and Jason Spencer-Hall, Professor at Plymouth Uni and president of the British Phycological Society asked me to submit this photo for the annual Hilda Canter-Lund Photo competition. This award was established in recognition of Hilda Canter-Lund, whose photomicrographs of freshwater algae combined high technical and aesthetic qualities whilst still capturing the quintessence of the organisms she was studying. I am pleased to say I ended up as joint winner (there is always a micro-algae and a macro-algae winner), prize money included! The caption:
Carpodesmia tamariscifolia (Bushy Rainbow Wrack) framed by Himanthalia elongata (Thong Weed) in a rockpool in Falmouth, Cornwall, U.K.
I took this photo of this stunningly beautiful iridescent Rainbow Wrack spring 2020 at a low tide when this rockpool was no more than a meter deep. This species is a perennial that forms a home to many animals, from sponges to tunicates, and is often used by the Bull Huss to attach its egg cases to. Many seaweed species also grow epiphytically on Bushy Rainbow Wrack, such as the invasive red species Bonnemaisonia hamifera on this photo. Photo taken using an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with an 8mm fisheye lens and with a single automatic strobe.
Definitely THE photo competition for me and I hope to get more good shots for the 2021 installment (most probably next March/April). As this post is short, below a photo (taken with my old camera) I submitted in 2017 (I managed to forget about the competition in the intervening years).
A day without wind last Thursday and so time for a look at the seaweeds. As expected, the pinks, reds and purples have made way for browns, yellows and greens. The water was a bit cloudy but with the wide angle lens you can get close up minimising the effetc of the bad viz. Wrasse were tending to nests and tiny pollock swam around but otherwise I could not spot not many animals; the exception was a big spider crab who was as startled as me. Above the common species Thin Sausage Weed Asperococcus fistulosus. Not the most beautiful species but let’s say it looks interesting. To my horror, I discovered that my favourite seaweed Bushy Rainbow Wrack has changed genus and is now called Carpodesmia tamariscifolia instead of Cystoseira tamariscifolia. I hate name changes in general but this just an ugly name! Two photos of this species below as well as one of Bushy Berry Wrack Cystoseira baccata which also has moved genus and is now Treptacantha baccata… After that a floating piece of Desmarest’s Flattened Weed Desmarestia ligulata and some Pale Patch Laver Pyropia leucostica.
A while back I thought it might be an idea to experiment with flash photography. Using one flashgun (strobe) I set out in my usual spot. I should have tried this a lot earlier! Although supershallow water has enough light to do without flash, a main problem (for me at least) is to balance harsh white sunlight (from above and from reflections from the white sand below) with the darker subject. By illuminating the subject, this effect evens out. I took probably almost a hundred photos of the Bushy Rainbow Wrack above and this one came out alright! Apart from the Thong Weed framing it, I like the row of Thong Weed ‘buttons’ in the foreground. I held the strobe in my hand for this one, and I used my older strobe, as my newerand more expensive manual one just not fires reliably for some reason (still trying to find out what is going wrong). Below some more strobe experiments. I really hope diving will be allowed soon so I can play around more with the wide angle lens and two strobes.
Some long overdue seaweed pics from the end of the seaweed bloom when the tides were low. I took many photos but few, if any, very good ones; sometimes you just are a bit out of luck I suppose. I have also started a Seaweed Gallery page (link also pinned at the top), gathering photos of as many different species I can find here in Cornwall. It is very much a work in progress and not a proper guide at all, but I hope it can help complement exisiting guides. Note that just a photo often is not enough to correctly identify species, so I have kept it at more easily recognisable things. On another note, I recently gave a ‘lockdown’ zoom presentation about my very niche hobby of taking photos of seaweeds for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. If you are interested you can find it on youtube (I have not watched it back myself as if there is one thing I dislike it is seeing myself talk on video (actually, there is one thing I like even less and that is seeing myself talk on a video that is there to see for the whole world!)). I talked not so much about photography or seaweed biology as I am far from an expert in either topic, but more about how I started out with rockpooling when I moved to Cornwall in 2012, and how this slowly spiralled out of control and ended up with me lying facedown in rockpools year-round taking photos of seaweeds. Anyway, a few species below: Irish Moss Chondrus crispus, Berry Wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius, Red Rags Dilsea carnosa and Desmarest’s Flattened Weed Desmarestia ligulata.
Just three pics of the same shark egg case (‘mermaid’s purse) laid by a Nursehound (Scyliorhinus stellaris), also known as Large-spotted dogfish, Greater spotted dogfish or Bull huss. My camera was only five centimetres away from it (this technique is called ‘close focus wide angle‘). Mostly attached to perennial and tough Bushy rainbow wrack (Cystoseira tamariscifolia).