a tiny rock pool

Last weekend I went down to Gylly Beach in Falmouth for a bit of rock pooling. However, the tide was not very low (especially with the inshore wind) and the weather was crap. Moreover, I could not find anything that I had not seen many times before; although rock pool life is very biodiverse, there have started to be dimishing returns when looking for non-microscopic organisms. Clambering over yet another rock, I decided to stop and play around with my Canon Powershot instead. I focused on a tiny pool (around two by four feet) completely covered in corraline algae. IMG_2285It does not look like much but taking the time for a carefully look was really rewarding. It is tricky to take photographs without being able to see the viewfinder though. My strategy has been to just take loads of pictures and hope some of them work out. The miniature underwater landscape was really beautiful. Pink plates Mesophyllum lichenoides made up the largest proportion of corraline algae (some bearing ‘reproductive conceptacles’). Another species is Corallina officinalis or Common coral weed (third photo). I had some Corallina growing in my aquarium at some point, but it grew very slowly and has now disappeared. Being able to create the right conditions for coralline algae to thrive in a coldwater aquarium would be fantastic, but I have not seen any evidence of anyone being able to cover their aquarium in them yet. (I have tried ‘planting’ Corallina and although it looked very nice at first (fifth pic), these seaweeds quickly died off, turning orange and then white (second pic).)IMG_2264IMG_2262IMG_2402Some other seaweed species were present as well; Irish moss and Harpoonweed (not pictured), False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata occurred in multiple patches, Rhodophyllis divaricata?, an Osmundea species and Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum. There were also a few brown seaweeds, the characteristic Thong (or Spaghetti) weed Himanthalia elongata buttons and the invasive (and pervasive) Wireweed Sargassum muticum.IMG_2287IMG_2272 IMG_2375 IMG_2308IMG_2327IMG_2291I did not spot too many animals, although I am sure there is an enormous hidden diversity present among the seaweeds. I noticed a red-white Dahlia anemone Urticina felina as well as some patches of a colonial brown tunicate. I’d like to go back soon and take some more pictures, with my Canon powershot or with my GoPro. I have an SLR as well that I have not been using lately as my iPhone is such a good camera and hassle-free. SLR underwater housings are really expensive, but I recently discovered that there are quite cheap waterproof SLR bags available which might be an option to try to take higher quality photos (in rock pools, I would not go diving or snorkeling with them). It would be very cool to try to make panorama pictures of rock pools, especially when taking one each month in the same spot to capture seasonality. More seaweed photos, Canon powershot or otherwise, to follow soon!IMG_2364 IMG_2314

a weird mollusc in Mylor Marina

In the series ‘pontooning‘, I returned to Mylor a week ago Friday to have a quick look around in the marina. The water was choppy, but visibility on the sheltered side of the pontoons was OK. I noticed a brown slug-like thing flapping about next to a boat. My first thought was a sea hare (I have seen plenty but have not yet seen them swimming). Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was something else, it had a shell like Haminoea or Akera, species I had never seen, especially not swimming. It turns out that it was Akera bullata, an Ophistobranch mollusc that is rarely seen in Cornwall and generally is observed crawling on the mud, not swimming. Why they swim is not well understood, but they usually swarm in numbers and so there must be some general response to the environment or mating behaviour going on. I saw four other individuals nearby so that fits. I made a couple of movies but as I could not look through the viewfinder the footage is not great (I went back Saturday and Sunday to try and find them back but was not able to). The shell can be clearly seen hanging down (Akera is related to the Sea hare but has retained its external shell). When lifted out of the water, the animal folds its mantle around its shell.

IMG_9973There were some other interesting things to see. The dominant organism on the pontoons is the tunicate Cione intestinalis (I see there are some other tunicate species hiding in these pictures; I will have to take a closer look next time). Amongst it grows the purple invasive Bryozoan Bugula neritina. Next, a colonial tunicate thta could be Botrylloides violaceus, Trididemnum cereum or Didemnun maculosum (or something else again). After that, the beautiful Lightbulb sea squirt Clavelina lepadiformis.IMG_1849IMG_1656IMG_1677IMG_1704Plumose anemones Metridium senile are always common here. I for the first time noticed another species Diadumene cincta, very pretty! IMG_1867IMG_1859 IMG_1754 IMG_1745

aquarium update 11

The aquarium was in desperate need of a make-over (again…). I hauled a ton of rocks over from the beach and stacked them up. (I thought at first that I would need something to stick the rocks together (epoxy, superglue or waterfall foam) but that wasn’t really necessary). I also removed most of the gravel and replaced it with sand. So quite a big change but it really looks a lot better. However, my nice burrowing Red-speckled anemones suffered a bit when putting the sand in, and even after siphoning it off again I could not really find them anymore….hopefully they turn up again!IMG_7849 The aquarium is still a bit bare and I have to go out and collect things that will live on the rocks, such as anemones and seaweeds. However, there is some progress on the seaweed front. There is a bit of Irish moss Chondrus crispus growing spontaneosly from the back wall. There are also some patches of pink corraline algae; which must be Coral weed Corralina officinalis judging from one outgrowing patch. Having this species grow would be great, but they do not seem like fast growers. Chrysymenia wrighti is still thriving on the circulation pump; I remove a bit every now and then, so it acts as an ‘algae scrubber’, removing nutrients from the water. I have placed a couple of other seaweeds in the aquarium, a bit risky as they can die off and start trouble, but I can’t help it. The red Soliera chordalis below has done well before but unfortunately has started to die off a little already (first pic). I have a big piece of a flat red species that has started to grow from nowhere as well (second pic).IMG_7908IMG_7652One day, the aquarium was full of strings of Painted topshell eggs. I noticed when feeding a day later that the water was not very cold: I had forgotten to switch the pump/chiller back on two days previously! So the trick to breed this species is to increase the temperature, although I am not expecting much to happen with the eggs. Either the Thick-lipped or Netted dogwhelks are also occasionally sticking their egg masses to the glass. I placed a chunk of orange Estuarine sponge in the aquarium; this was devoured by Painted topshells and Cushion stars, so it is a good bit of live food to add. I had planted a little washed-up eelgrass plant to see if it would survive and indeed it has grown more roots. (If you want to try this yourself, please always use washed up plants and don’t dig out any, as eelgrass beds are vulnerable habitats.) It would be great to have a second tank dedicated to eelgrass….The little scallop is still happy (see close-up). I have added another filter feeder: a Leathery sea squirt Styela clavata. Butt-ugly, but that is actually fun too. I am trying it out as they are an invasive species and so probably pretty hardy. A Sting winkle seems to like it (but not eat it). I have never seen my two Sting winkles eat anything actually. They move about very slowly, but they have grown.IMG_7651IMG_7914Now the snakelocks anemones are gone, I have added some more fish. I have caught some juvenile Pollack Pollachius pollachius with my net. At first I caught ones that were less than an inch, but they did not survive. Of the six two-inch or so ones I caught, three dissappeared after one day, but the remaining three are going strong. Very nice looking fish! I also caught a little Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine (by hand at low tide). It is quite shy, but is increasingly showing itself. A beautiful little fish! I have one remaining Two-spotted goby. The Common goby is doing very well and eats from my hand. I think I’ll go for another little tompot, more Pollack and Two-spotted gobies. Ideally I would catch some Leopard-spotted gobies with a trap when diving, let’s see….The other fish I would like to have again is the Goldsinny wrasse: very pretty and not as nervous as Corkwing wrasse. IMG_7887

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new camera: Canon Powershot D30

As I drowned my Panasonic Lumix (some pics here) and as my Canon Powershot in an underwater housing (some pics here) is quite cumbersome (forgetting the option of taking my iPhone underwater), I decided to buy a new point-and-shoot underwater camera. All major brands have a rugged (shock-, dust- and water-proof) option and needless to say each has their pro’s and cons. I decided for the Canon Powershot D30 because I know and like the brand and because it goes deepest (24 meters) which would mean I could take in on any future dives. I later read (tip: don’t read more reviews after you have ordered) that the aperture is relatively small (bad for low light (UK underwater) environments) and that it had not been updated significantly from the previous version…so it is not all great. In general, point-and-shoot camera’s won’t give you super great images (although sometimes you strike lucky). However, there is a VERY large price gap between these camera’s and SLRs in housings (with lights). Check here for a nice Beginner’s Guide to Underwater Photography.IMG_3295I tried out the camera just for a little bit as I did not have much time. I went rock pooling which meant I could not look through the viewfinder for any underwater pics. The pools at the moment are dominated by brownish fuzzy algae which do not look great and it was overcast, so conditions were not ideal. Here a snap of Morchellium argum, a colonial tunicate that is common at the moment:IMG_0006Two pics for comparison with the iPhone of a Dog whelk Nucella lapillus laying eggs. I will probably still stick with the iPhone for above-water pictures as I prefer tapping the screen to focus as well as having the olloclip macro option. Also, the colours seem more vivid, although to be fair I need some more time to play around with the Canon. iPhone first, Canon second:IMG_3267IMG_0022

More Scummy Pools

As in Falmouth, the rock pools in Flushing are not looking that great at the moment. Lots of the Corallina has turned white/died (although the clumps in my tank are still their normal purple!). Of course, many species were still thriving, Grape pip weed Mastocarpus stellatus (top), Bunny ears Lomentaria articulata (bottom), new Thong weed Himanthalia elongata ‘buttons’ and a young blade of kelp along with some green Ulva:IMG_0977Among the seaweeds that were thriving was Slimy whip weed Chordaria flagelliformis (I am by no means a seaweed expert and I might be wrong about this, please comment if I am!) and also the beautiful Harpoon weed Asparagospis armata growing as an epiphyte on some darker coloured False eyelash weed. Harpoon weed is invasive and so a good candidate to do well int he aquarium (as most invasive species are quite opportunistic and not too finnicky). It died off in the tank before, but I decided to bring some home to try again now I have a chiller.IMG_0964

IMG_0970Another tangling invasive species: Bonnemaison’s hook weed Bonnemaisonia hamifera (a characteristic curved hook can be seen in the top-middle):IMG_1020Loads more seaweeds to be found but I will save those for another time. All kinds of tunicates pop up in spring, some of them pretty (see for instance here), some of them less so. For instance the invasive species, the Leathery sea squirt Styela clava and an out-of-focus photo of a second, large (>10 cm) species that did not get a lot of response on the NE Atlantic Tunicata FaceBook group. Aplidium nordmanni was offered, see here for a much smaller version of that species. Not a looker either in any case!IMG_1055

IMG_1030I brought my little aquarium net and found many juvenile (<1 cm) fish as well as Mysis shrimp. The fish look like gobies but it is hard to see. They were completely translucent and so you can see what this one just ate. I should take some bits of seaweed home to see what comes crawling and swimming out under a little USB microscope (quite easy to make little videos). It is hard to come up with decent images squatting and squinting on a slippery rock with a salt-encrusted mobile phone!

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scummy pools

For the first time in a while I had time to nip over to Castle Beach to do a little rock pooling. The tide wasn’t the best and the pools did not look to great either actually; this seemed to be due to a mix of some seaweed species dying off, and some not so great-looking species ones blooming: IMG_0317Lots of Wireweed, Ulva and very fine weeds (the latter are often very pretty under magnified and in water, but not so much as a blob on the rocks). What might be Desmarestia viridis (but don’t take my word for it): IMG_0319Still, there was plenty to see: Orange-clubbed sea slugs for instance and one very weird-looking creature I had never noticed before was clinging on in little groups on red seaweeds under overhangs, the annual sponge Sycon ciliatum:

IMG_0218The Breadcrumb sponge Halicondria panicea can be very nicely coloured: IMG_0240There were a lot of tunicates about. Colony-forming Morchellium argum for instance and this beauty, probably Ascidia mentula (determined by helpful folks at the ‘NE Atlantic Tunicata‘ facebook group): IMG_0276IMG_0279One colony-forming tunicate looked superficially like Botryllus but was much bigger and less pretty, it might be Aplidium nordmanni:IMG_0248 Quite a lot of Sting winkles Ocenebra erinacea were around as well:IMG_0288Finally, I spotted the orange/yellow egg masses of the Cornish sucker (or Shore clingfish) Lepadogaster lepadogaster (see here for an older post on them). However, I also found some that were greyish and had a speckled band, as well as a red dot between the eyes. Local expert David Fenwick told me these are from the Small-headed clingfish Apletodon dentatus, a species I have not yet seen the adults of (see his site for pictures): IMG_0314

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miniature species

I usually head down straight to the lowest reaches of the shore when rock pooling, but when there is a neap tide and a lot of inshore wind as there was this weekend, you have to make do with turning rocks higher up the shore. Although biodiversity is lower, there are some species that are only found there (see for instance this recent post) and so it is actually nice to have a look there for a change. The very first rock turned over actually had a couple of interesting inhabitants underneath it. Another lifer, the tiny gastropod mollusc Onoba semicostata (surrounded by a couple of even tinier Rissoa parva), very quickly identified by members from the British Marine Mollusca facebook group:

IMG_8352The same rock had a number of the tiny (< 1 cm) Cushion star species Asterina phylactica on it as well. It is prettier than the common Cushion star Asterina gibbosa (one of my favourite aquarium species), but perhaps a bit too small to be an option for the tank.

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One other beautiful species, the colonial tunicate Botryllus schlosseri, this is a nice blue/purple one:

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animals that did not do that well in my aquarium…

A while back I wrote two posts on my personal top ten animals for the (unchilled) aquarium (here and here). Of course, there were also organisms that were not such a success. Animals can be unsuited for the aquarium for many reasons, and of course this depends on the size of aquarium, the combination of animals and what you define by ‘unsuited’; so please keep in mind that the following is a personal account!

Aggressive species: Another reasons that makes animals unsuitable for a community tank is that they are bullish. (Animals becoming too big is not a real problem for the native aquarium as you can release them again and replace with smaller individuals.) Crabs often get rowdy for instance. I kept a small (5 cm carapace width) Edible crab Cancer pagurus for a little while (his name was Barry). It would bury (Barry!) itself during the day, but as soon as the lights turned off it would go about and rearrange the tank. Rocks weighing over a kilo were knocked against the glass and I found a Cushion star cut in two. It was quite an operation to remove it from the tank using a net (but during all that rummaging I interestingly saw bioluminescence in the tank which was very cool). Shannies like to feed on snails and hermit crabs and so in a relatively small aquarium at least, so sometimes you have to choose between one or the other:

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Truly littoral species: I had a couple of limpets Patella vulgata in the aquarium that just sat in the same place on the glass for months. At this time, algal growth was a problem, so I should have known if they had moved during the day or night by the tracks they would have made but they did not move a millimeter. The animals seemed a bit thinner in their shell, but seemingly they can survive for very long periods without food. Not being able to emerge from the water as they do normally seems to be a big problem for these animals.

Secretive species: Other animals simply are too shy or live underneath rocks; no point really in putting them in the aquarium if you cannot see them. This happened with Broad-clawed porcelain crabs, a Shore rockling and also a Shore clingfish (although hidden, all of these animals did survive for a long time). I have seen Brittle stars in a Mediterranean aquarium but the ones found in the intertidal here tend to live under rocks and I never saw one back in the aquarium. A Sand star Astropecten irregularis quickly buried itself in the gravel:

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Filter feeders: I quickly realized that filter feeders, mussels or tunicates for example, were very difficult. There simply were not enough algae growing in the water to feed them (unfortunately, at times there were plenty of algae growing on the rocks and on the glass). One way to keep filter feeders is to separately cultivate algae for food. A really nice blog describing such a project can be found here. Another solution might be to feed these animals with artificial plankton, which is available commercially. This requires very good skimming to get rid of excess nutrients though. Both options I find too cumbersome at the moment. Having said all this, one filter feeder managed to survive for many months in my aquarium: the variegated scallop.

Other fussy eaters: Worm pipefish did OK in the aquarium, but that was probably because I regularly brought in new seaweeds housing fresh zooplankton. Unlike Mullet, Gobies or Blennies, I have never seen them take frozen food and therefore I will not keep them again until I can provide them regularly with live brineshrimp or similar. Snakelocks anemones always did well in the aquarium, but Beadlet and Strawberry anemones didn’t (they actually did not die but seem to shrink rather than grow over time). The former are able to grow because of their symbiosis with photosynthesizing algae and so do not rely as much on food. I must say that the latter two  species are probably relatively easy to keep when you make the effort to regularly dunk a piece of dead prawn on them. The European cowrie Trivia monacha feeds on tunicates which I had trouble keeping alive and so they are unfortunately not an option yet:

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Unknown reasons: On a few occasions a species just died and I had no idea why. The only thing this taught me was to not try that species again. This happened to a Common starfish Asterias rubens:

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