Diving the mouth of the Helford

A quick post on a dive a couple of weeks ago, my first boat dive in Cornwall. Four divers left from Loe Beach in Feock on the Fal Estuary to find the wreck of the Rock Island Bridge at the mouth of the Helford River. On our way we saw a Harbour porpoise which was a first for me, great! The mouth of the Helford is only slightly deeper (nine meters) than it is off Grebe Beach where we usually dive. There is no eelgrass here, just some Divided net weed Dictyota dichotoma and very large Sugar kelp Saccharina latissima lying flat on the bottom. The seabed is an expanse of gravel covered with quite a lot of bivalves: Great scallop Pecten maximus, Rayed artemis Dosinia exoleta, Norway cockle Laevicardium crassum, Dog cockle Glycymeris glycymeris, Common ottershell Lutraria lutraria, Warty venus Venus verrucosa, Pullet carpet shell Tapes corrugata and Hardshell clam Mercenaria mercenaria amongst them. Next time I will collect shells so I can take a good picture of all of them back on land. The place was swarming with starfish feeding on these bivalves, I’d say 90% Common starfish and 10% Spiny starfish. Below a Common starfish Asterias rubens feeding on a clam, a small brittlestar Amphipholis squamata and a Warty venus and Pullet carpet shell.IMG_1545IMG_1542IMG_1592Although the seabed was relatively featureless and we did not manage to find the wreckage, it was fun to watch the Thornback rays Raya clavata (including a large individual with distinctive black headmarkings) and the many Small-spotted catsharks (or dogfish) Scyliorhinus canicula which are very easy to approach. We also saw a Red gurnard Aspitrigla cuculus (see also this old post). However, it is high time we are going to explore some other, deeper dive sites. With the weather deteriorating, I hope we can find some more good days to dive this year though!IMG_1552IMG_1585IMG_1586IMG_1584IMG_1606

aquarium update 12

It has been a while since I last posted an aquarium update; I have been a bit busy and have not done much with the tank recently. I have not done any water changes, never use the skimmer but have had zero algae because I have kept the light level low. I have experimented a bit with various seaweeds but nothing thrived. The Chrysemenia was doing well growing on the Tunze pump but disappeared overnight. Kelp always does well when attached to the pump. The tank is still a bit bare so no ‘full tank shot’ but some inhabitants below. I collected some Parasitic anemones Calliactis parasitica attached to an empty shell figuring that a not so pretty species might be actually quite hardy. Turns out they just stayed a bit limp and I therefore returned them to the sea.IMG_9139The Tompot blenny is a real character, very alert and always hungry. If you stick your finger in the water he immediately comes and nips it. The small scallop remarkably survived over the summer (remarkably because there is almost nothing to filter from the water) but the hungry Tompot ate it in the end (like most other snails). As the snails were not going to last long anyway, I introduced two small Common starfish Asterias rubens and two small Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis. They are usually hidden but that makes it extra fun when you spot one. The Cushion star Asterina gibbosa of course remain unperturbed and are always on the prowl. I noticed a tiny offspring (<2 mm).IMG_9759IMG_9391IMG_9752

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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Three echinoderms

I have been traveling quite a bit over summer but now I am back and hope to soon kick start my aquarium (it just has sand and some cushion stars in it at the moment). I have already gone out rock pooling again a couple of times. For the very first time I have found a sea urchin at Castle Beach in Falmouth, a little Psammechinus miliaris:

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I found the Common starfish Asterias rubens and especially the Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis to be very common this time of year:

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The abundant Cushion star Asterina gibbosa:

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I hope to soon post about the aquarium again!

first dive in Cornwall

A couple of weeks ago I went for a bit of a spur of the moment after-work dive with colleague Andrew (like me a quite unexperienced diver) and his friend Charlotte Sams. Charlie is an experienced diver and natural history photographer, who has her own blog: Charlottesamsphotography, which you should check out. We dove in Falmouth off Pendennis point. The water was not very clear (maybe 5-6 meters visibility) but the temperature was quite nice. We saw (amongst others) Sand eels (do not know which of the two species), Pollack Pollachius pollachius, Dragonets Callionymus lyra, Two-spotted gobies Gobiusculus flavescens, a Tompot blenny Parablennius pararugine, very large Ballan wrasse Labrus bergylta and a beautiful little John dory Zeus faber:

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We also saw some very large Common starfish Asteria rubens and also a nice Spiny starfish Marthasteria glacialis. We dove only to about 5-7 meters, which meant we could stay in quite long, over an hour. At seven meters, the bottom was a sandy expanse, interspersed with mounts of Laminaria Kelp covered in hydroids. In-between the kelp were other seaweeds, such as Red rags Dilsea carnosa but I was more focused on the animals during the dive. In shallower water were enormous bundles of Wireweed Sargassum muticum (also known as japweed but that is not very pc…) and the very long slimy Mermaid’s tresses or Bootlace weed Chorda filum. Snakelocks anemones were very common, and we managed to also see Leach’s spider crab Inachus phalangium, which lives associated with these anemones. All in all a fantastic experience, and I hope to find the time to go diving very soon again!