A rare sunny interval on Saturday meant I grabbed my gear for one last snorkel this year before returning to The Netherlands for Christmas. The visibility seemed good the last couple of days (judged by peering down the quay) and there was no wind, but I was quickly disappointed when sticking my head underwater at Flushing beach (also had major brain freeze!). I headed to the nearest buoy to practice some close focus wide able shots with my two strobes (one just arrive back from Japan for repairs). This proved difficult but fun. Lots of adjusting positions; outward when they created back scatter and inwards when the middle of the photo was not lit up. As the buoy was bobbing about I used a fast shutterspeed which resulted in dark water but that too has its charms. Lots of diversity, including the solitary seasquirt Cione intestinalis, colonial seasquirts Botryllus schlosseri, Diplosoma listerianum, Didemnum (maculosum?), bryozoans Watersipora subatra and Bugula and/or Bugulina species, the purse sponge Sycon ciliatum as well as tufts of red seaweeds and green Ulva. There are an enormous amount of tiny critters such as worms and snails hidden between all these species as well. It will be a nice project for next year to take a better wide able pic and complement these with macro pics of individual species.
Yesterday I finally took my new camera underwater! I should have gone a bit sooner, but too be fair the water has not been looking very clear (and the viz was still not ideal). The sun was shining and it was great to be back in the water (perhaps 12C, not too cold with a wetsuit). It should be a great experience to shoot with a new, better camera, but it ended up being a bit of a frustrating experience not finding the right settings (I know, first-world problems!). I was stuck in Aperture Priority mode, which was a problem with significant wave action and the need for a fast shutterspeed. Although I took close to 200 photo’s, only a handful were halfway decent. Still, I learned a lot for next time. I took the 8mm fish-eye lens which allows you to get very close to the subject (especially useful for water that is not crystal clear) and still get a wide angle view. Above, a photo of an estuary sponge and seaweeds as well as Snell’s window. Below a badly composed shot of seaweeds, a downward shot of Furcellaria lumbricalis seaweed and Bushy rainbow wrack with Spaghetti weed in the background. All not very sharp and with flat colours, and hopefully standing in stark contrast to the next batch of photo’s!
Last week I was on holiday in Bretagne (Brittany), France. There was not a lot of opportunity for snorkelling or rock pooling activities, but the last day I checked out the pontoons of the large marina in Trinité-sur-Mer. I was not disappointed; the pontoons in Cornwall are full of life, but these ones 200 or so kilometers further south were exceptionally diverse. The most striking find was that of orange, red and purple Rosy feather stars Antedon bifida. These also occur in the UK but I had not seen these yet here so I was quite excited. I did not go into the water myself and the photos I took holding my camera under ended up being not great so I took some shots from above water as well, too bad I did not have more time!The first photo below gives a good impression of how abundant and diverse life attached to these pontoons is. Many species are the same as the ones I see in Mylor marina, including invasive species such as the Bryozoan Bugula neritina and the tunicate Styela clavata. In addition to the many sponges, anemones, mussels, oysters and colonial tunicates I even saw things such as scallops (not sure which species) and urchins (Psammechinus). The peacock worms were absolutely huge. The plumose anemones Metridium senile looked different to the ones I am used to here to with orange individuals having brown collars which sometimes were really big and wavy. It seems no one that moors their boat in a marina ever takes notice of what is attached to the pontoons, but they should, as the diversity and beauty can almost rival coral reefs. I hope I can go back one time to properly investigate but for now I will check out the local marina’s and keep an eye out for feather stars…
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!
More photography practice lately. I have started to use Photoshop to post-process images, which is hard. I have sat with Thomas Daguerre for a session which was very helpful. For some images, the twiddling is of not much use; the image above of a Bull huss egg case for instance I am pretty happy with as is. Below I have pasted some before and after-Photoshop photo’s. Mostly adjusting highlights and contrast, cropping and playing around with sharpness (in the RAW files), most images tend to be a bit reddish. I have not bothered to tackle the ‘marine snow’ with the Spot Healing brush tool. First, Snakelocks anemones, next, Cocks’ comb Plocamium, then Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata and an old kelp holdfast covered in feeding Grey topshells Gibbula cineraria. On and under the seaweeds I encounter many interesting tiny animals, but it is hard to take good photo’s without a macrolens. I have pasted a couple photo’s below (none have been edited in any way): the Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus (these can also be reddish or brownish, and can be found on a wide variety of seaweeds), a sponge, a juvenile Snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis (next to a Flat top shell Gibbula umbilicalis) and the Star ascidian Botryllus schlosseri where I later noticed the fecal pellets underneath. Pooping tunicates, that is what we need more pictures of!Finally, some more before- and after- Photoshop images. The first is the nudibranch Rostanga rubra (‘Red doris’) which was only 5mm or so (see also the tiny Daisy anemone in the background). I shot it today, very cold: 4 degrees, and the water might have been only 8 degrees, brrrr! Next, a closeup of the seaweed Osmundea (see the first photo of this post) which shows its interesting pigmentation. The photo’s are nothing special yet, but I notice I am making progress. Excitingly, I just have ordered a macro wetlens and so hope to get some proper macro photography going soon!
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.
Last Wednesday I went for a sneaky worktime dive across the Fal estuary on the Maerl beds between St Just in Roseland and St Mawes. Maerl is a slow growing, calcified type of seaweed (looks more like coral) which forms a unique and quite rare habitat, see these older posts. The water was 17°C so nice and comfortable and it was probably the shallowest dive I’ve ever done, no deeper than 3 meters. I took my new Canon G16 in a Fantasea housing and went all semi-pro by adjusting the white balance first (not that I had a go at any other settings…). I was really pleased with the results, a world of difference to the Canon D30. The beds are an expanse of maerl nodules with very little to break it up, no rocks, no sand, just the occasional old bottle and so it is hard to get any exciting angles. Still there is always something to see. In order: a baby Smallspotted catshark Scyliorhinus canicula, a Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis, a (breadcrumb?) sponge, a closed-up Snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis (a rare sight), a Parasitic anemone Calliactis parasitica, a Fan worm Myxicola infundibulum, a Harbour crab Liocarcinus depurator, a Velvet swimming crab Necora puber and a very well-camouflaged Spider crab Maja squinado.
Sunday was a beautiful spring day and we headed out to a new spot: Sandy Acres Beach on St. Ives Bay, North Cornwall. Beautiful dunes and a vast beach with very few people on it! With the kids running amok, I had only very little time to scour the high tide strand line. However, even with only 50 meters or so covered, it was the best bit of beach combing so far. Many cuttlefish bones, bits of Horn wracka and quite large mussels covered in seaweed holdfasts. Below a quick snap. At the bottom, I am not 100% sure, two Thornback ray Raja clavata- a Spotted ray Raja montagui and just above that a tiny Small-spotted catshark Scyliorhinus canicula mermaid’s purses (egg cases, see here for a useful key). Next to the mussel Mytilus edulis, some Hornwrack Flustra foliacea (a Bryozoan), two sponges which might be Mermaids glove and Chocolate finger sponge (thanks Steve Trewhella at the Beachcombing facebook group) and a spiky piece of Sea beard Nemertesia antennina, a hydroid. At the right of that a piece of a whelk Buccinum undatum egg cluster (better pic here). Not a bad haul, looking forward for a proper walk along this beach very soon!
When going out rock pooling, I always take my iPhone and Canon Powershot (for underwater use) and take at least a couple of photos. Because of a lack of time, or because a single good photo is not enough for a new post, not everything ends up on the blog. Now I have some free time, I picked a couple of unused photos made this year that seem blog-worthy. First up, In realized only what I had found on the beach at St. Ives when leafing through the The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline: a Seabeard! This hydroid, Nemertesia antennina, grows as stiff colonies protruding from a matted base and occasionally washes up on shore. It looks a bit plant-like; at the time I did not have the opportunity to have a closer look and just snapped a quick photo. Next a Lesser sandeel Ammodytes tobianus found at Gylly beach. I always see them when snorkeling or diving (see here) but this was a good opportunity to see one up close (I get excited when I spot a dead fish on the beach (see also here) and I am not afraid to admit it!). Following are two colour varieties of the Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis, a Common brittlestar Ophiothrix fragilis and a shot of an Aequorea forskalea (or maybe A. vitrina) jellyfish. Next the gastropod mollusc Chinaman’s hat Calyptraea chinensis. I went back to Mylor marina for some pontooning recently but not much was growing; the only thing that stood out was the luxuriant sponge growth (I am not sure of the species, perhaps Halichondria).And of course some seaweed pictures. By iPhone: Under tongue weed Hypoglossum hypoglossoides in Flushing, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata in St. Agnes and a photo showing a variety of wracks all colonizing the same patch (Flushing): Serrated wrack Fucus serratus, Spiraled wrack Fucus spiralis, Bladderwrack Fucus vesiculosis and Egg wrack Ascophylum nodosum. Next some Canon Powershot underwater pics (see also this post and this one): a random rock pool picture of mostly decaying seaweed, a closeup of my favourite the Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and a shot of Wireweed Sargassum muticum that has completely taken over a pool. Finally an SLR photo of a rock pool at Gylly beach with large Cystoseira baccata plants (middle, Wireweed on the left).
The weather was not great last weekend and we were too late at the diveshop on Saturday to be back in time to get the tanks refilled for a dive on Sunday but the one dive was (as always) worth the effort! We took dive buddy Chris’s boat from Loe Beach in Feock over to the other side of the Fal Estuary (between St. Just and St. Mawes) to explore the Maerl beds. See an earlier post on a snorkel trip to see this bed of ‘Cornish coral’ for some more background information. After the usual faffing about with equipment on board we plunged in the water. I took a single photo of the boat which turned out quite dramatic:Although we were diving 1-2 hours before high water (the best time, as clear seawater is pushed in the estuary), the visibility was quite bad. After going just a couple of meters down, fields of maerl loomed into view (the dive was really shallow, 5.9 meters max I think!). There were quite a lot of Thornback ray Raya clavata egg cases (foreground first picture) but we did not see the rays themselves. There are two main Maerl genera around here, Phymatolithon and Lithothamnion but their growth forms are varied and there are other encrusting Pink paint weeds that could look similar. We saw a number of golf balls that were completely covered in coralline algae, quite cool.We saw a couple of *very well* camouflaged crabs sitting about. They were completely covered by sponges, coralline algae and seaweeds. There are a number of crab species shaped like this but most of them seem too small. Best guess is th
e Toad crab Hyas coarctatus the Europan spidercrab Maja squinado in a particular extravagant mood. There are lots of little things hiding in the Maerl; gobies (rock gobies I think), squat lobsters, swimming crabs, hooded prawns and things that hide faster than I can identify them. I noticed a dainty little prawn sitting about which is probably Thoralus cranchii, although it could also be Eualus occultus (second picture is cropped). Swimming crabs were common and probably mostly were the Harbour crab Liocarcinus depurator. The first picture was the only one with flash and shows the Maerl colours a bit better. The second photo shows a Velvet swimming crab Necora puber under a snakelocks anemone sitting on top of a bottle. This species can be very commonly seen rockpooling. Lastly an empty shell of the largest European sting winkle Ocenebra erinaceus I have seen so far and probably the largest sponge I have seen so far too (with a human head for scale).