rockpool impressions

Some pics from last week when the weather was good. The pools are golden brown at the moment (especially in the sun) with wire weed, thong weed and kelp dominating and mainly pinkish harpoon weed on the bottom. There are many schools of pollack along with the occasional school of young mullet and sand smelt. (One sand smelt was not in very good shape so I could get very close to take a good look.) These pics are taken using natural light. Nothing too special but I just wanted to post a bit more this year!

Snorkel Adventures

The sun is shining (most days) and the water has warmed up, so ideal conditions for a bit of snorkeling. I have been out at my usual spot in Falmouth (rockpools and kelp forest) and my local beach in Flushing (seagrass) (and yes, I really count myself lucky every time that l live here!). The last couple of times I have brought my son along, as he is now old enough (nine). He is a nature freak just like his dad, actually probably more so! I need to get him fins and a weight belt soon, but he has been doing fine in the water already.

The photos above and below illustrate the state of the rock pools at the moment: quite brownish with the Sargassum and Himanthalia growing everywhere. The red, pink and purple species have largely disappeared (apart from Harpoon weed) and there is quite a bit of green Ulva growing. The water teems with juvenile pollack in the rock pools and schools of sand eels a bit further out. Diving over sandy patches, you can see the latter species shooting out of the sand en masse. It is crazy how such a silvery pelagic fish can also burrow in the sand. I guess it does take its toll, as there are quite some dead ones to be seen too.

The Flushing snorkel site is very different, no (deep) rockpools, only a little bit of kelp but with a very healthy patch of seagrass. No catsharks or thornback rays when we went in, just the odd small sea bass. There are many small Snakelocks anemones on the seagrass. I used to think that it was mostly the purple form that did this but I now noticed that most were the green variety, so the morphs do not seem to differ in this respect after all. One anemone had ‘caught’ a crystal jellyfish (an Aequorea medusa). Not sure if it was in the process of being digested or just ‘stuck’.

I have played around with my new INON strobe, which works a lot better than my old strobe. I have ordered a second one for Wide Angle photos too….(as you can see there is quite some backscatter in the pic of the Shore Crab above). I will need to get back to some shore diving to make optimal use of two strobes, as I am too lousy a freediver to get the lighting and exposure right in one breath!

Summer Seaweeds

Snorkeling in summer is nice because it is sunny and warm, but the seaweeds are turning a bit manky. That has its charms too though!

Above: Furbelows Saccorhiza polyschides. Middle: Thong Weed Himanthalia elongata covered in epiphytes (Ceramium?). Bottom: seaweed assemblage with Red Rags Dilsea carnosa, Irish Moss Chondrus crispus, Forkweed Dictyota dichotoma, Harpoon Weed Asparagopsis armata, Sea Lettuce Ulva lactuca and other species.

Snorkeling with Blue Sharks

Last Tuesday I went on a boat trip with BlueSharkSnorkel departing from Penzance. The Celtic Fox took us an hour out from the coast. On the way we were greated by Common Dolphins and a small Sunfish sped past as well. (Being in the water with a big Sunfish would be an amazing experience!) After some chumming and mackerel fishing it was time to wait for the sharks. There was quite a bit of swell and I felt a bit seasick! Finally, the plastic bottle tied to a hookless line with mackerel bait started to bob up and down, announcing the presence of the first Blue Shark (Prionace glauca). After giving the shark(s) some time to get settled around the boat we slid in. Two sharks around my size appeared and disappeared. I did not pay attention to their sex, but at least one had small wounds on its back which could suggest it is a female (the males bite when mating). They had some parasites too. The sharks came up to about a metre from us but remained relatively wary, so I did not get any close up shots unfortunately. The pic above came out OK, it gives a nice impression of the blueness of the shark and their pelagic habitat. This was my second Blue Shark experience (see this old post) and hope to go look for them again some time!

Back in the Water

I had not been in the water for many weeks due to bad weather, work and laziness, but as the sun was shining last Tuesday and there were indications from social media that the plankton bloom had gone, I went back in for a snorkel. The water has warmed up, although the viz was not as good as I had hoped. I swam a bit further than my usual shallow rockpools to explore the kelp forest. Pollack, wrasse, mullet and sandeels swam about. I noticed a line with crabpots starting very close to shore, something I had not seen before. Unlucky spider crabs and some lobsters could be seen in the pots. Below a Spider Crab that was still free….

After exploring the slightly deeper waters I went back into the pools where the viz actually cleared up a bit. Seaweed-wise, things have deteriorated a bit compared to early spring, but it was a very nice swim around all the same!

Natural Aquarium

A quick posts of some wide angle photos I took at the start of this month. The seaweeds were just past their prime but still looked nice and the viz was really good. It was great to slowly swim through the water in my usual spot between the rockpools ‘proper’ and the kelp forest. Just like swimming in a giant aquarium! Not too many fish or other animals to be seen. I always manage to suprise one big resident Ballan Wrasse. Other than that there were tiny Pollack and some Two-Spot Gobies. I have not been in the water since because the weather (wind) has not been great; maybe next week! Btw, I am also on instagram: @an_bollenessor.

Back on St. Martins, Isles of Scilly.

Last week we visited St. Martin, one of the Isles of Scilly again, the first week we were allowed to do so. As a result, the islands were very quiet (and the pub was still closed, aargh!). It was sunny, but the easterlies were still cold and there was even a bit of frost some nights. However, I managed to get a snorkel in almost every day, which was great. I brought all my gear (again stepping on the boat wearing my weight belt…) but only used the strobes the first day; these are still an ongoing frustration of mine! I tried out most beaches, especially enjoying Porth Morran, where the kelp met the seagrass. (The pics in the Gallery are click-able btw.)

Some sites were dominated by kelp Laminaria digitata with Common Sea Urchins Echinus esculentus munching away. Fish life was very limited; I saw Ballan- and Corkwing Wrasse and Thicklipped Mullet but not much else.

Common Sea Urchin Echinus esculentus

Other sites were more ‘beachy’ with white sand, small rocks covered in Snakelocks Anemones and Seaweeds and Seagrass. The visibility looked very promising but was quite bad some days unfortunately (especially compared to our visit last September, see here). All in all a great time was had and we hope to visit again next year!

Red and Green

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!).

The Isles of Scilly: St. Martins

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!  

Seaweed Gallery

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.