Yesterday I went for a late morning snorkel; although the water looked inviting, the viz was disappointing. I did not see anything of interest until I noticed a Seabream (15-20 cm) hanging about, not a species I had seen before! It goes to show that there is no dive or snorkel session whithout something that makes it worthwhile. The fish was not very shy, but I did not have weight or fins so I could not get down to get a proper shot from the side. I found out that this was a Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata). This southern species seems to have become more frequent on the South coast of the UK the last few years, probably due to warming seas. It seems to be known among anglers, but less so among underwater observers (the NBN Atlas only has two records for this species in Cornwall). Other than that the usual Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, Two-spot gobies, Pollack and even a Blenny (very commonly found under rocks while rockpooling but I hardly ever see them when snorkeling).
Wednesday had a good low tide, sun and no wind so I headed out for the water during my (long) lunch break. I was not disappointed with the viz, although the wireweed and thong weed shed tissue (conceptacles and/or epiphytic algae?) which immediately cloud the water so you have to ‘swim and shoot’ before the opportunity is gone. At this time of the year, the seaweed biomass is at its greatest, with lots of Harpoonweed, Wireweed, Sea lettuce, Bushy rainbow wrack and Thong weed but the biodiversity is lower, with many other species such as Discoid forkweed, False eyelash weed, Bonnemaisons Hookweed and Red grape weed gone or decaying. Below some general impressions (more photos from around the same time last year here and here): On the two photos above Bushy berry wreck Cystoseira baccata (along with Brown fan weed and Oyster thief). There are many big snakelocks anemones around and quite some fish, mainly shoals of juvenile pollack, Corkwing wrasse and Ballan wrasse, Two-spot gobies and, beyond the pools above the kelp forest, shoals of sand eels and sand smelt. The wind has picked up again so no more snorkelling in the coming days. I’d love to go for a dive again but my strobe malfunctioned and is back with the manufacturer for repair and so I might wait a bit going back into the water….
A quick post to keep the blog going. Seaweed season has passed me by a bit, first because of the bad weather and second, when the weather was better, because I did not have much time to go out. I went snorkelling only twice in May in my usual (shallow) spot at Castle Beach in Falmouth. On the 13th of May the plankton bloom was in full swing: a (wannabe) photographers nightmare! Generally, the seaweeds at this point were already a bit ‘over the hill’. I managed to get a nice shot of Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius though (above). I also glimpsed what I believe is Iridescent Drachiella Drachiella spectabilis under a rock overhang. The bright blue Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia contrasted very nciely with the deep red of the Red rags Dilsea carnosa, I hope to get a much better picture of that (probably next year…).By the next snorkel session the 19th, the visibility was much better. Some photos of the green seaweed Codium sp., A Gelidium sp. (pulchellum?) and a patch of Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens growing epiphytically on Hairy sponge weed Cladostephus spongiosus with the very common species Ulva and Oyster thief Colpomenia peregrina (and others). Next, Beautiful Fan weed Callophyllis laciniata and another Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius. Finally, three shots giving a general impression of the seaweed growth and what I think is Chipolata weed Scytosiphon lomentaria as well as a snakelocks anemone inbetween yellowed False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. About the animals: there are some juvenile pollack around, as well as two-spot gobies. I saw a brown, flabby shape drifting through the water at one point and my first thought was that it was a seahare but it actually turned out to be a small clingfish (I could not get a photo unfortunately). There were quite some polychaete worms erratically swimming around in their reproductive ‘epitoke’ stage. The final photo shows one (with a Nassarius reticulatus in the background) which could be Perinereis cultifera.
This 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!
During my ‘seaweed sessions’ I of course keep my eyes open for animals too. Most prominent are the beautiful Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis (see also here). Other anemone species seem much more rare, such as the Dahlia anemone Urticina felina. Little schools of Mysis shrimp are very common (and very hard to photograph) but fish seem less common than a few months back. The common dragonet Callionymus lyra is (as the name suggests) not uncommon but hard to approach, the third photo was the best I could do and demonstrates how masterfully it is camouflaged (but see here what fullblooded males can look like!). Next a very pretty pink sea squirt species and a Broad-clawed porcelain crab Porcellana platycheles, completely flat so, very-well adapted to living under rocks. Finally, a tiny stalked jellyfish Calvadosia campanulata. Stalked jellies seemed to have disappeared over summer, but like the seaweeds are making a little comeback during autumn. There are not many around though, I have seen less than one per hour snorkelling (see this post for better stalked jellyfish photos; I need to work on the depth of field!).
Above the spot where I have been snorkeling all year at Tunnel Beach, between Castle- and Gylly Beach, in Falmouth (Pendennis Castle can be seen in the background). The best time to snorkel is before low tide, as when the tide comes in the viz gets worse. I try to aim for 50-100 cm above the low tide mark which is really shallow. This area is not a real rock pool but rather a gravelly zone between the rock pools proper and the kelp forest which begins past the last row of rocks on the photo. Last week I went snorkelling three times but only last Thursday had decent viz. The photos below show the abundance of pink Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata, green Sea lettuce Ulva lactuca and new growth of Thong weed Himanthalia elongata and older plants covered in red fuzzy epiphytes. The old wireweed Sargassum muticum plants have died off and the remnants are covered in many epiphytes such as Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticilata, Cock’s comb Plocamium cartilagineum and the pretty Iridescent fern weed Osmundea truncata. However, there is new growth everywhere as well so, like Himanthalia, this species seems to have a half-yearly lifecycle. Below some Irish moss Chondrus crispus next to Wireweed. After that, lots of little fuzzy Falkenbergia growing on top of Discoid forkweed Polyides rotundus. This combination grows in a large patch and looks interesting but I struggled to get decent photos, as the dark seaweeds on very white gravel mess up the white balance big time. Next one or two different species of fine flat reds, the last probably Nitophyllum punctatum. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia is dying off (here overgrown with Asparagopsis and Dictyota) but the related Bushy berry wrack C. baccata is doing well. Among its epiphytes Spiny straggle weed Gelidium spinosum (ID thanks to Seaweeds of the Atlantic facebook page members) which is also freeliving, and finally the green Codium fragile. One time, when the tide came in, the water was super oxygenated, and all surfaces were covered with small silver bubbles which was beautiful (and annoying as the camera lens was also covered). The following photos show a very different looking Codium fragile, C. tamariscifolia overgrown with Sea beach Delesseria sanguinea and more Thong weed.
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!
To my regret I did not manage to take a look at the seaweeds at Castle Beach in September (it was my aim to go in at least once every month). Last Friday however, the sun was shining, the wind was gone and the tide was low (and I was able to escape work) so I at least could make October. Not only was the viz excellent, to my surprise, the seaweeds looked very healthy. It seems that there is a second, autumn seaweed bloom that I was not aware of. Some of the bleached corraline algae have regained their pink colour, the Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata increased in abundance and I saw species such as Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum growing again. The Bushy rainbow wrack has partly died back, forming dense, dark-brown mats (fourth photo) but also show fresh growth. This species is covered in many epiphytes such as Brown fan weed Dictyota dichotoma, and remnants of Bull huss mermaid’s purses still cling on. Interestingly, Wireweed Sargassum muticum has almost completely disappeared. It is tricky photographing rock pool seaweeds. One main issue is to not disturb any sediment, especially as I keep it *very* shallow, sometimes lying on my stomach (I definitely do not need fins). The other main issue with using a (wide angle) wetlens is that there are three glass surfaces in front of the lens collecting bubbles and so need regular wiping. Light is also a challenge: photographing against the sun causes glare, but having the sun in your back results in casting shadows over your subject. I continuously fiddle with the exposure correction, but it remains difficult with the white sand and pebbles around the seaweeds. Below, some healthy looking Solier’s string weed Soliera chordalis, two photos of an ‘unknown’, Norwegian fan weed Gymnogrongus crenulatus, Under-tongue weed Hypoglossum hypoglossoides, seaweeds starting to grow on a pebble, and a rock covered in a variety of seaweeds.
This Monday I was lucky to be invited to join several colleagues for a trip to find Blue sharks with Chris and Annabelle Lowe of Atlantic Diver. Blue Sharks Prionace glauca are not uncommon around Cornwall at the end of summer but they are a pelagic species and usually do not come close to land. We left at 8:00 from Newquay harbour to go 20 miles offshore, get in a cage and see what would swim up! Chum was made by cutting up mackerel and mushing it in a bucket with a spade, out at sea, it was hung overboard in bags to create a trail. On the way I saw my first ever Sunfish Mola mola; a tiny one (30-40 cm or so) flapping about on the surface. We also saw a variety of seabirds: European storm-petrels, Fulmars, a Great skua and Gannets attracted by the chum. The picture above was taken at the end of the day when the weather was a bit more settled, but it was quite rough when we were on board. Let’s say I added a bit to the chum trail! The Fulmars are supposedly a good indicator of sharks, as they are the firsts to fly off. Not this time though, we spotted a small Blue shark (a bit over a meter in length) but all birds seemed oblivious to it. I had expected for the shark to be a bit closer to the surface, but it remained 5-10 meters deep and was quite hard to see. We took to the cage in pairs. It was bobbing about quite a bit and the water was flakey with mushy mackerel. The shark swam in big circles around the cage, once or twice it touched the cage but otherwise it kept her distance. We believe we saw a second shark of about the same size, but they did not appear together. The slender profile and deep blue colour of the sharks were very striking. One of the sharks had a parasite trailing from the tail fin, probably a copepod. The cage might seem a bit overkill for these sharks (there are two tour operators on the south coast who go out on trips without one), but perhaps not when considerably bigger specimens could also turn up (see this link for a recent angling record) and there are multiple confirmed Blue shark attacks on humans. The swell and ‘mackerel snow’ made it hard to focus, but more frustratingly my camera let me down once again by being unresponsive, so I have to really send it out for repair. I also brought my GoPro (one of the old models without a viewfinder unfortunately). The longer first clip does not show the shark all the time (GoPro switched its software from ‘Studio’ to ‘Quick’, and whereas it is now easy to add a generic dubstep soundtrack, editing out bits does not seem possible) but gives a good impression of the experience nonetheless. All in all it was a great outing and I hope to go again some time. Many thanks to Chris and Annabelle, a very friendly and knowledgeable couple who are highly recommended for their sea safaris!
Last week when I was chasing whitebait off Castle Beach, I also took some photos of seaweeds. I have been taking photos of seaweeds at this same same spot every month this year (I have made a new tag 2017 Falmouth seaweeds, if you click that, you can easily track the changes back in time). Many species are dying off, so it is definitely not looking as pretty as in March or in April. Below some evidence of the decay: first Furbellows Saccorhiza polyschides covered in grazing Grey topshells Gibbula cineraria and second, discoloured Berry wart cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius and Red rags Dilsea carnosa. Below some species that still look healthy: Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia, Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, Chipolataweed Scytosiphon lomentaria (not 100% sure!), Polysiphonia and Codium.