snorkeling at pendennis point

The sun was shining this weekend and the sea water is currently at its warmest so we went out for a bit of snorkeling off Pendennis Point in Falmouth. My experience with the iPhone waterproof case was not that good, so I took my Panasonic Lumix (DMC-FT10) along (which is not too great either!). The seaweeds are dying off mostly; the kelp is covered by bryozoans and hydroids to the point that they are completely fuzzy:

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I mentioned in the previous post that the Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis was common in rock pools; bigger ones can be found when snorkeling:

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Big Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis were everywhere and perhaps half of them had a little Leach’s spider crab Inachus phalangium associated with them. Wikipedia tells me that these crabs eat the anemones’ leftover food and also their mucus:

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This hour of snorkeling gave me some inspiration for a new aquarium set-up: less seaweeds (specifically less dying seaweeds clogging up the filter and releasing nutrients) and more rocks. On top of these a couple of big snakelocks with spider crabs and some Two-spotted gobies Gobiusculus flavescens. The latter are very common and pretty. I will have to catch them underwater with a net though, which will probably be difficult…

top ten animals for the unchilled aquarium: 5 – 1

OK, part two of my list of fun and easy species to keep in an unchilled native marine aquarium (see here for numbers 10-6). I will later post about species to avoid, and of course also about easy seaweeds to keep.

5: juvenile crabs

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Crabs are active and interesting to watch, however, in a community tank they should not be too large as they can be quite destructive as well. Juvenile Shore crabs Carcinus maenas are an option, or a variety of crab species that stay small, such as Pirimela denticulata (I am not too sure what species the above pictured crab is, but it is still doing well four months after collecting it).

4: Squat Lobster Galathea squamifera

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Squat lobsters Galathea squamifera can be a bit shy but are entertaining to watch as they scuttle about. Very common under rocks in silty areas.

3: Snakelocks Anemone Anemonia viridis

IMG_0102Very pretty and common anemones that are easy to keep. Beadlet anemones Actinia equina and Strawberry anemones Actinia fragacea survived in my aquarium as well but they seemed to shrink a bit over time rather than grow and these species can retract their tentacles which looks less nice. I did not specifically feed my anemones by dropping artemia or food pellets on them. The photosynthetic capabilities of Snakelocks anemones due to their algal symbionts probably makes it easier for them to thrive when food is relatively scarce. Beware for the tentacles of larger individuals though, as they can sting!

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2: Common prawn Palaemon serratus

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Prawns* have been a rage in tropical freshwater aquariums for years but people forget that there are very pretty ones right in our seas. I must admit I have not got round to checking rostrum (the ‘nose’) structures to differentiate between several closely related Palaemon species, but I think I have the Common prawn. They are always foraging and flock to any new object in the aquarium to check for edible bits. If the pumps are switched off they will swim and compete with the fish for food.

* or shrimp, these two names can mean different things in different English-speaking countries. In other languages ,like my native language Dutch, we only have a single word (garnaal) for these critters

1: Cushion star Asterina gibbosa

IMG_0356My numbers 2, 3 and 4 could have been number 1 as well, but I ended up picking the very common Cushion Star. Although grey and just an inch in size, these quintessential rock pool inhabitants are active, hardy and just plain cool!

new sand

Welcome to this most obscure of blogs, my dear reader. The aquarium is a bit of a mess at the moment for a variety of reasons. First of all there are a lot of algae growing; I have a bag with Rowaphos hanging in the back compartment to remove phosphates but this does not seem to help much (I have had good experiences with before though). Second, one of my pumps broke and so filtration runs at half capacity. Third, the mixed success of planting many different seaweeds has left loads of detritus in the tank. I have made large water changes which helped a bit. An additional tank for experimenting would be nice to have… Fourth, I have been unlucky with some of the seaweeds: the Wireweed grew really well, but the large size meant it caught a lot of the current and was easily dislodged. The Dudresnay’s whorled weed Dudresnaya verticullosa was growing really well (see here) but broke off from the rocks and could not be replanted:

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I could not attach the fine red seaweed (see last post) either and did not want to have it floating around so I have removed it. My nice red seaweed streaming from the pump outlet, most probably Devil’s tongue weed Grateloupia turutu (as the name indicates, another invader from the Pacific), broke of. A crap picture of both weeds:

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I changed the white gravel with finer, beige Maerl gravel (Cornwall’s equivalent of coral sand, see previous post) here placed in a bowl for contrast:

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I released my Shanny as well as the largest of the two Rock gobies. The former attacked to many of the snails (it was getting a bit of a mollusc graveyard) and the latter was just too voracious in general. The final straw was seeing it swimming around with half a Worm pipefish sticking out of its mouth (I still have a bunch of those). The Shore rockling did not survive, but I caught a glimpse of the Shore clingfish when I removed some of the rocks from the aquarium. The juvenile albino Edible crab (if that’s what it is) and the European sting winkle Ocenebra erinaceus I recently caught both still do well, as is a juvenile Shore crab Carcinus maenas:

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The Netted dog whelk Hinia reticulata is not one of the most impressive looking snails, but they do very well in the aquarium, burrowing and moving around:

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I am not sure whether replacing one of the actinic lamps with the daylight lamp was such a great idea, the tank looks too yellowish now, especially with the Maerl sand…However, I will stick with it and see whether it helps future attempts to successfully keep Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia (i.e. to retain it’s iridescence). If not, I’ll go back to the original lighting. I will not do too much with the aquarium in the near future as I want to get rid of the algae first. There are not many critters in the tank, which should help (I have only introduced a nice big Snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis recently). I will do some more water changes and order a new pump. Only then will I slowly start experimenting with seaweeds again.

I am still unsure about the chiller, but with the weather getting warmer it might be more than just a luxury to have one. Apart from the price, it standing on the floor next to the aquarium with tubes sticking out is what I don’t like about the idea though. It will also not be silent, but perhaps I could get away with disabling the noisy hood fans, resulting in an overall quieter aquarium. The stripped-down tank (note that the red encrusting algae/seaweeds at the top of the tank have died (turned white) as they were exposed for a couple of hours when changing water):

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tank update

Time for an update on the tank. Switching to two lamps instead of one looks good but has not brought the iridescence of the Bushy rainbow wrack back. I could not resist putting a new specimen in. Iridescence is defined as the property of certain surfaces to appear to change color as the angle of view or the angle of illumination changes. Left: viewed from below, right: viewed from above.

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I noticed that the underside of the rock the weed was attached to harbored a nice little strawberry worm, but before I could photograph it, the large rock goby gulped it down. It is noticeable that the fish have full bellies after putting in a new piece of seaweed, which is no surprise as there is so much growing on and in it.I have seen the very cute amphipod Caprella acanthifera which looks like a tiny, marine cross between a praying mantis and a caterpillar, but since they did not come not near the glass I could not get a good shot. I have seen one Cushion star Asterina Phylactica as well, which looks nicer than the light grey Asterina gibbosa I have. I also noticed a couple of Cerithiopsis tubercularis (3-4 mm):

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The tank is completely full of snakelocks anemones, hundreds maybe:

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In the foreground an Idiotea isopod; there are many of these sitting on seaweed branches and occasionally swimming around, although most of them will probably be eaten by now. Finally, three seaweeds have started to grow from the pump outlets. Dudresnay’s whorled weed, a fine purple weed and a broadleaved red seaweed. I have placed adult plants of the latter species (30 cm or so)  in my aquarium before, but these were quickly eaten. It is either a type of laver or dulse, but I am not sure. It has also settled on the glass, but seldomly grows ‘leaves’ on there. Growing in the water current protects the weeds from predation from shrimps, let’s see how big they can grow!

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some serious aquascaping

With the seaweeds collected, it was time to plant my aquarium. This time I took a more serious approach, I planted lots. Many of the seaweeds had bits of rock attached to their holdfasts which made it easy to anchor them in the gravel. Two of the weeds I tied to rocks with a piece of elastic band, easy peasy:IMG_1981

View from the left side. False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata in the front, tall Wireweed Sargassum muticum and in the middle some coarse brown sea weed which almost looks like a dead conifer. This is probably Bushy berry wrack Cystoseira baccata: IMG_1990

An expanded view, on the right some Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum, in the middle the red pluck of Dudresnays whorled weed Dudresnaya vertillicata that I already had:

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A goby amidst the False eyelash weed lying on top of what may be Purple claw weed, I am not sure:

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The magnificently coloured Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia covered in green Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis. In the foreground the pink Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens and Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata.

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A close-up of the Bushy rainbow wrack. Other plants were bright green or purple. I never knew that seaweeds existed with these iridescent colours. In fact, when I glimpsed one for the first time in a rock pool I disregarded it because I thought it was some seaweed covered in oil slick! These weeds are also have a very cartilaginous texture which give them more of an animal-like appearance.

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I discovered several small whitish Sea lemon nudibranchs Archidoris pseudoargus, very cool.

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rock pooling from the comfort of my home

It was too cold and windy to spend a lot of time on the beach, so I took a closer look at my seaweed catch back home. I was amazed at the diversity of organisms growing amidst the weeds. A lot of them are easily overlooked when rock pooling as you need some time (and preferably a comfortable seat) to find them. Below Bushy rainbow wrack with epiphytic False eyelash weed and Pink plates Mesophyllum lichenoides (I will not give the Latin names of species described in preceding posts for brevity). Some bright green sea lettuce Ulva, a grey topshell Gibbula cineraria, a snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis and in the middle a bright orange colony of the tunicate Botrylloides leachi: IMG_1804I found many large Breadcrumb sponges Halichondria panicea but the picture I took did not turn out to be in focus. I do not know what the organism below is, perhaps a bryozoan (please feel free to comment!). IMG_1816I am not sure what this is either! IMG_1796Dog whelk Nucella lapillus eggs (I now also notice a tiny brittle star in the middle): IMG_1835Egg cases of the thick-lipped dog whelk Hinia incrassata: IMG_1758A small snakelocks anemone; interestingly enough all of these were the green variant (with purple tips) and there were none of the pinkish ones. I have read some interesting notes about aggressive behaviors between the two types, something to look into for a future post. IMG_1807A Marbled Crenella Modiolarca tumida, a tiny bivalve typical of seaweed holdfasts: IMG_1776A tiny White tortoiseshell limpet Tectura virginea: IMG_1782I saw something creeping out of the seaweeds on the floor out of the corner of my eye: a small Long-legged spider crab Macropodia rostrata. This species adorns itself with seaweeds for camouflage: IMG_1870

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introduction

Hello! For the last half year or so, I have been messing with a marine aquarium housing sea weeds and critters collected from local rock pools here in Cornwall. I thought it would be fun to blog about my aquarium project, especially after I discovered that it is quite easy to take nice aquarium pictures using an iPhone (which I found nearly impossible using a standard digital camera). After doing some internet research, I settled on a Red Sea Max 130D ‘plug-and-play’ aquarium (I will post about the actual tank later). I could not find much information on the web on temperate marine tanks, especially ones without a chiller or a sump. and few of those seem to focus on seaweeds. So who knows I may have found a niche. Below I have posted some pictures from when I was setting it up last year:

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Half a bucket of gravel collected from a nearby beach, RO water taken home from the lab where I work (carried back 2×10 L at the time, the tank is 130 L) mixed with a free bucket of sea salt that came with the tank. Few sea weeds and not too many rocks. I have since replaced the rocks with bigger ones; most critters are benthic and you do not want to have too much ‘open water’ around with nothing in it. Although too bare, I do like the purple look of this set-up, which has since disappeared because of inevitable algae taking over from the purple crustose seaweeds.

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A shanny Lipophrys pholis, this is a very common fish around here that can easily be picked up when turning stones at low tide. The branched seaweed on the left is Solier’s red string weed Solieria chordalis; in the back on the right there is a little pluck of Berry wart cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius.

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A snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis. Behind it some Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens. This weed died off quite quickly; first it turned a bright orange, then white.

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The Star ascidian Botryllus schlosseri, a colony-forming tunicate. It did not survive for too long, but that might just have been because the particular broad-leaved red seaweed they grew on are very popular with prawns and hermit crabs. What animals and sea weeds do well has been trial and error. I might compile a list of ‘easy’ species and ones to avoid at some point.