The plankton bloom has arrived….

A sneaky worktime dive today: the weather was beautiful, sunny and windstill and the tide was great. However, unfortunately the water was one turbid mass of snot: the spring plankton bloom has started! It was impossible to take good photos; with a fisheye you can get very close to the subject (CFWA ‘CloseFocusWideAngle’) minimising the amount of snot between subject and lens, but this only works up to a point! I had a go anyway. The seaweeds are in decline as well, see the fuzziness of the iridescent Osmundea truncata above. Below some shots of my alltime favourite the spectacularly iridescent Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia: Finally, the species Gelidium attenuatum (?), a common, thin and shiny species I would like to know the identity of, a rock with lots of buttons of Himanthalia elongata and a Snakelocks anemone amidst the Harpoonweed. Not sure when the bloom will be over, but I think I won’t bother going back over the weekend!

Olympus seaweed shots

Last weekend it was THE BEST weekend in the year for seaweeds here in Falmouth: the short window where most species peak (just before the bluebells are flowering on land), with a low tide, flat seas and sun. Unfortunately I was still waiting for my my new camera to come back from repair, which was very frustrating…. I took some pics with the Canon Powershot instead, but they are not really worth posting. I finally got my camera back last Tuesday: no damage to the lens but some replaced camera parts; with a bill under £150 it could have been a whole lot worse. As soon as I received the camera, I drove to Castle Beach and went for a 2.5 hour snorkel. The weather was not great, and the viz was neither. I took my strobe but that ended up in a big scatterfest so I quickly proceeded without it. First some general impressions of the rock pools with lots of Sargassum, Jania and Ulva. I also noticed quite a bit of Desmarestia ligulata (3d pic down):

I went fully Manual, varying ISO, shutterspeed and aperture which went surprisingly smoothly. The bad visibility and overcast skies however made it tricky to get good results and most photos were underexposed (of course still with some blown highlights). Also, I noticed the 8mm fisheye results in quite a bit of distorsion around the edges, more so than the wetlens I am used too even, which is slightly disappointing (but partially solvable by cropping). I tried a quick over-under shot which will I will practice more using a strobe (as the above water part is much brighter), but the main challenge will be to find a background that is more interesting than a bit of rock! Having a camera+ lens in a housing rather than a wetlens stuck on a housing is a huge improvement but I stilll have issues with having lots of bubbles on the dome. The seaweeds are happy at the moment and photosynthesising lots. The pic below of Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata shows all the oxygen bubbles on the plant. Next, two photos of False eyelashweed Calliblepharis jubata and of Beautiful fan weed Callophyllis laciniata (I think!). Finally some animals. I discovered a small (3 inch or so) and exquisetly camouflaged Longspined scorpionfish Taurulus bubalis under the Thong weed, can you spot it? This is a shot that really needed a strobe but alas….Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis are common here. Again this pic is a bit underexposed and the vibrant colours do not come out but it shows the beautiful shape of this animal at least. What I need to do the coming months is too practice (especially with the strobe) so I will be well-prepared for the second seaweed season in autumn! (See the ‘2017 Falmouth Seaweed’ tag at the bottom of the webpage for posts showing how seaweed species wax and wane over the year.)

Some more seaweeds

Last Friday I went for another very shallow dip at Castle Beach in Falmouth. Even though the weather was pretty abysmal, it was definitely worth it! Here a small selection of photos, again the quality is not top notch but many pretty species to see. The first pic below shows the Hairy sandweed Cladostephus spongiosus remnants the Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens featured in the last post tend to attach to. After that, some Chylocladia verticillata, Dumontia contorta with Grateloupia turutura (past its prime) in the background, Heterosiphonia plumosa under a small overhang, a thin red (Rhodophyllis irvineorum? awaiting comments on the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook group) and finally Chondrus crispus and Dictyota dichotoma.

Slender-beaded Coral Weed Jania rubens

Quick post about an hour worth of snorkelling on Wednesday. Very frustratingly, I had a housing mishap on Saturday, meaning my brandnew Olympus camera and lens got wet. $%&^”! as the saying goes…..I have sent both back for repair and hope all can be fixed relatively fast and cheap. A minor disaster but what can you do? Go out with my old Canon Powershot and wetlens instead I guess! The viz was not the greatest but I can only blame myself for a disappointing haul of photos. I took around 200 (as usual), whittled them down to 75 or so on my camera afterwards and then to 30 or so on my computer. Did some tweaking in ‘Photos’ afterwards but they were 5’s, 6’s and 7’s at most. The midshore pools were looking pretty. Lots of one of my favourite seaweed species Slender-beaded Coral Weed Jania rubens growing on top of (mostly) Hairy sandweed (and possibly Black scour weed). Lots of other epiphytic species grow on top of this assemblage, including Sea lettuce Ulva, Brown fan weed Dictyota dichotoma, Gelidium spp, Ceramium spp, Colpomenia OR Leathisia (I still am not sure of the difference..) and many others.

first snorkel with the Olympus

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!

More Macro

These photos are from a couple of weeks back; since the weather has been hideous most of the time I have not been out much since. More practice with the m.zuiko 60mm macro lens abovewater. Above a small Strawberry anemone. Below a small Cushion star Asterina gibbosa and my finger tip for size. Below that the hydroid Candelabrum cocksii and an Idotoea isopod species (there are several common Idotoea species but I have not paid much attention to them yet I must admit). Finally, the adorable Worm pipefish Nerophis lumbriciformis which is common and usually found in small groups under rocks (I have never seen them underwater as they are small, slow, well-camouflaged and probably hidden most of the time). Definitely will try to get some more portraits of these lovely fish!

New Aquarium: Red Sea Reefer 170

I replaced my old Red Sea Max 130D tank last December with a new Red Sea Reefer 170 tank. I was not entirely happy with the design of the old tank (see this old post) and I was thinking of a new aquarium with a sump, and then my retrofitted LEDs stopped working: I was practically forced to buy a new aquarium! It is much better to have a sump to have a large skimmer in, the glass is much clearer and the (separately bought) AI prime LEDs are great (with seven different individually adjustable colours). I had a long day switching tanks and found three clingfish alive and well. I released my ballan wrasse as it was before the christmas break and I did not want to let it go two weeks without food. In the following weeks, I managed to collect some more anemones, I now have Snakelocks, Strawberries, Beadlets, Daisies, Redspeckleds and Dahlias. It is my aim to collect maybe ten or so more species this year when rockpooling and diving and turn it into a proper anemone tank. I probably won’t add any fish or big inverts as they could fall prey to the anemones. I have added some snails to help keep the algae under control, unfortunately after a a superclean first two months some green hues are starting to appear so I will add some more. These are two hasty shots; a proper update is soon to follow!

more macro rockpooling

Another quick, brisk trip to the rocky shore in my village of Flushing today to practice my macro photography with the 60mm lens. I used the highest F-stop, varied the output of the flash and let the camera decide the shutterspeed and ISO. I did not find anything too special, but the very common organisms are just as pretty as the rarer species. Above and below juveniles of the Flat topshell Gibbula umbilicalis and the Grey topshell Gibbula cineraria on pink encrusting algae. Still not quite used to not having optical zoom as with my old Canon Powershot but quite happy with the shots, especially as all were hand-held. As I am lazy, these are JPEGs with some  tweaking using Windows photoviewer.

Below a Black-footed limpet Patella depressa, a more ‘atmospheric’ shot of a periwinkle, might be the ‘normal’ Littorina littorea but not 100% sure, and a baby Edible crab Cancer pagurus. Really looking forward to go into the water again, but not only is it still cold and grey, it is very windy and choppy so bad viz. Probably another rockpooling post next weekend!

new camera: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II + M.ZUIKO 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

Santa Claus was very generous last year and I am now the proud owner of an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II mirrorless camera! A big step up from my Canon Powershot G16 compact camera (which I still find a great little camera btw). Apart from a better sensor, greater dynamic range, more pixels etc, the main reason for going for a so-called micro four thirds camera was that I can use separate lenses. By that I mean lenses that actually go on the camera rather than wetlenses that are attached to the camera housing. The wetlens approach has the problem that air bubbles can form on three surfaces rather than one, and also, water seeps out from between the lens and housing every time you lift it out of the water (which I tend to do a lot in rockpools less than a meter deep). I first thought of going for an SLR, but these are much more expensive (the housings at least), require looking through a viewfinder which seems annoying to me and also they are considerably bigger, which is also not handy in rock pools. Luckily I learned that mirrorless cameras also existed! I bought an M.ZUIKO 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens as well. I have not been in the water yet, as the weather has been grim, but took the camera out for some above-water rock pooling last weekend. The first day I did not take the separate flash, which demonstrates my ignorance (to maximize the depth of field, a small aperture is needed which lets in little light, resulting in long shutter times and high ISO). The photos were not great, but the next day with flash it went a lot better. Above a Broad-clawed porcelain crab Porcellana platycheles and a Long-clawed porcelain crab Pisidia longicornis. Next time I will bring a ruler to show exactly how tiny these crabs can be (these are juveniles).

Above a flat worm (check the eyespots!) and a Thick top shell Phorcus lineatus. A main problem is that all subjects are covered with a film of water, resulting in glistening highlights when using the flash. Another issue is the shallow depth of field. The next time I might try to do some photo bracketing/stacking, merging images of a different focal depth (I need a tripod for this). The great thing is that there is no shortage of subjects: turning over a single rock can reveal multiple species each of echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans, bryozoans, worms, flat worms etc. Below a selection of chitons, I have not had time to check out which species; there are not that many here but they are tricky to identify from photographs. I will check Ian Smiths fantastic photo resources on flickr to do so.

 

Underwater Fluorescence

It has been three months since the last blog post so high time for an update. I have not been out much as the weather has been grim. In fact, the photos in this post are one year old! I bought a blue LED light for fluorescence photography which has been gaining popularity in recent years. Many organisms and fluoresce (i.e. absorb light and emit it at a longer wavelength), although the function of this is generally not well-understood (perhaps in some cases it might not even have a function and just be a byproduct). Coral reefs can especially be spectacularly fluorescent but the cold waters of the UK harbour a variety of fluorescent organisms too, most notably anemones and corals, see here for great marine fluorescence photos from Scotland by James Lynott. Anyway, I bought my light and a yellow barrier filter (which serves to let the emitted fluorescent light through but not the blue light) to be held in front of the camera housing, as well as a headset barrier filter from a very knowledgable German chap here; his site contains a lot useful information for those interested in the background and applications of this type of photography (see also here, here and here). The photography is very tricky: the ISO needs to be bumped up in the dark which results in a lot of noise. The dark also requires long shutterspeeds which results in shaky images. A large aperture for more light is best, but since the subjects are usually small this results in suboptimal depth of field.  I have only been out twice last January, and only whilst rockpooling (I have not done a single nightdive or nightsnorkel in Cornwall and I am not overly tempted to do so!). The very shallow rockpools high up at Castle Beach in Falmouth reveal some fluorescent animals, including hermit crabs but I focused on anemones. Snakelocks are big and very fluorescent (the green ones, the grey variety is not, although it does emit red light via its symbionts) but not common high up the shore. Hardly visible normally due to their small size and inconspicous colours, red-speckled anemones, daisy anemones and gem anemones become apparent using a blue light (in fact, this method is use to study tiny coral recruits in the tropics). The top photo shows two green gem anemones Aulactinia verrucosa (with red and purple coralline algae in the background). The anemones are very small (2 cm max) and I used my CMC-1 wetlens on my Canon G16. The other two photos show Daisy anemones Cereus pedunculatus. I only later noticed the tiny anemone babies (this is a livebearing species). I hope when the rain and wind disappear and the evenings still start early to go out again and post some more photos. Also, I have bought both a new camera and a new aquarium so I have plenty more to post about!