Yet another solo dive (I know, I know, not ideal) this Thursday morning before the easterlies are kicking in. Actually, the water was already choppier than I expected, but for macro photography the viz is not as important. I did not get ‘the’ shot but it was a nice dive all around. I discovered a little swim-under and saw lobster, rock lobster (craw fish) and a huuuuge conger eel. I was focusing on a little tunicate when I looked up and saw it looking back at me from not very far away at all. Its head was as big as mine. I slowly swam backwards, thinking of this encounter…..overall they do seem to be aggressive towards people though, and with my fisheye lens this could have been a really good shot. This later happened again, this time a smaller individual but still sizable. I did not stick my macro lens up its nose but grabbed a halfhearted shot with a passing by Twospot goby almost in focus to give an idea: Some macro shots: again a Twin fan worm Bispira volutacornis and a new one for me, a big bright red Protula tubularia. It would be nice to get some abstract close-ups but these are excellent living motion-detectors so it is difficult. There are some amazing colours under the rock overhangs and I would like to try some more abstract photos such as this Spiny starfish or this Didemnun colonial seasquirt and other encrusting animals (and plants). No diving/snorkelling this weekend because of the wind, but glad I could put a couple of dives in these past weeks, and I will make an effort to go a lot more weather permitting!
A solo dive early evening at the Silver Steps site. It was a couple of weeks I last went, and this time it was already dusk when I entered the water. My intention was to find cup corals and other small creatures growing on rock overhangs below the kelp line. The viz was good and sure enough I found what I was looking for: Devonshire cup coral Caryophyllia smithii, a solitary stony coral which is relatively common. They are very beautiful and the right size for the macro lens. I will definitely go after them again. Other finds were a golfball sponge Tethya aurantium, a baby Longspined seascorpion (this shot had potential, but it swam away unfortunately), a tunicate and a Painted topshell (very common). At the end of the dive unfortunately it was getting too dark to find objects or too properly focus; I need to sort out a dive light!
I will keep this post short, as my third Silver Steps shoredive of the year was a week ago. As you can see above, my dive was made by encountering the beautiful nudibranch Antiopella cristata (although I prefer the old name Janolus cristatus…). My camera battery strangely gave up straight after taking these pics (argh!), otherwise I would have bothered it for at least another ten minutes! The 60mm lens is great. Look at the European cowrie Trivia monacha below which is less than a centimeter in length. Not a great shot but it shows that it is possible. Finally, a common Phoronid worm Phoronis hippocrepia (Thanks Allison, please check out her great blog Notes from a California naturalist). I hope the wind will die down and I can go back soon.
Today I went for my final dive this year, again with Atlantic Scuba, and this time to the wreck of the SS Volnay (see here and here for background). Just off Porthallow on the Lizard peninsula, at around 17 meters (at low tide) lie the remains of this WWI casualty, hit by a mine and dynamited twice after (probably to get rid of unexploded shells), so she is mostly flattened. The boilers still are largely intact and are very impressive though, see the first not very-well composed shot (should have used my buddy for scale); note the white Dead man’s fingers. This dive would guarantee two ‘lifers’ for me, first the European spiny lobster (or Crayfish or Rock lobster) Palinurus elephas, which seems to be getting more common the last few years. Indeed, we did not have to look hard and saw the long antennae sticking out of nooks and crannies everywhere (see also the Devonshire cupcorals on the second photo). Second, and the main thing I was looking forward too, were the Pink sea fans Eunicella verrucosa. I had found some pieces of this gorgonian washed up on the beach before but never seen it alive. Luckily, at this site it is a common species (many juveniles, unbranched little ‘sticks were also present). I took a whole bunch of snaps and edited the jpgs in the standard Windows photo viewer (I keep the RAW files but need to find some time for proper post-processing). Just reducing highlights etc does wonders, but what I really need to do is be more clever with my camera settings in the first place. My New Year’s resolution will be too think ISO and aperture and not lazily rely on presets. I might also invest in a strobe capable of manual control (thanks for tips kelpdiver @dpreview!) High time to up my game! Below, three of the sea fan photos that came out best. Lastly, a nice new species for me: Trumpet anemones Aiptasia mutabilis. My four recent dives with Atlantic Scuba have all been great; a boat full of friendly divers leaving from just down the road in Mylor, skippered by Mark Milburn who has a very deep knowledge of the area. Todays dive with buddy Jan was very relaxed but I still learned a thing or two. More diving next year! P.S. Mark Milburn just published “Falmouth Underwater: a Guide to Marine Life, Wrecks and Dive Sites around Falmouth” (available here) which I highly recommend to anyone planning to dive or snorkel in the area!
Last Wednesday I went for a quick dive at Silver Steps in Falmouth, good viz and the water is no longer cold. Buddy Chris (above) and I rummaged around the U-boat wreckage (less impressive than it sounds) and unfortunately did not see any cuttlefish. What was new was a largish Topknot Zeugopterus punctatus which was gone before I could take a decent photo. I also saw seacucumbers for the first time diving (have seen them before when rock pooling, including parasitic snails). They could be Pawsonia or Aslia, but with the bodies wedged in the rocks and only the feeding tentacles visible it is not possible to tell. Sand eels were abundant and Sand smelt Atherina presbyter were also present at the surface. I hope to go back soon to practice with the strobe. I did a second dive in Flushing with Thomas too. Enjoyable but not too many great shots. I included one of Sand mason worms Lanice conchilega and fan worms Megalomma vesiculosum.
Finally, time for a (solo)dive last Saturday, at probably the most accessible local site: Silver Steps in Falmouth (you can just make out the steps in the photo above). The sun and high tide had attracted quite a lot of other divers too, including University of Exeter and Falmouth University students learning the ropes. I was very keen to get in the water and take photos but my approach is probably not the best: I just shoot whatever happens to be in front of me. Better results could be obtained to specifically look for macro subjects, to stay in the water column and search for jellies, befriend the Ballan wrasse or stay put in front of a Leopard-spotted goby hide-out (or check out seaweeds of course). I’ll do one of these things next time, for now, some random shots. I spotted several Spider crabs; these are always shy and try to quickly retreat, except for one. This big crab came after me as soon as we spotted each other. I should have tried more shots, as unfortunately he did not fit the frame. You can see in the short movie why I didn’t!
The viz was not great (I find it hard to estimate it in meters though). In the water I noticed a small hydrozoan Leuckartia octona. The underside of some wreckage harboured Light bulb sea squirts (see previous post) and some were predated on by Candy striped flatworm Prostheceraeus vittatus. (I brought my new LED light with me to help bring some colour out but I just ended up with combinations of glare and shadows so stuck to my normal natural light pics.) Next, a curious Ballan wrasse Labrus bergylta. Finally, some not so clear shots that nevertheless give a good impression of how tall the invasive Wireweed Sargassum muticum are growing. Hopefully more dive posts soon!
I am really getting back into this diving thing! Last week, I made another trip to Seaways Dive Centre in Penryn to rent some gear (£25 for 24 hrs) and go out with dive buddy Chris. First a dive at the end of the day at low tide at Silver Steps in Falmouth. A great encounter a minute after we got in with a cuttlefish:
We then set out over the gravel beds towards the open sea. A pretty barren affair, with lots of decaying seaweed. Mainly Spiny and Common starfish and Pulled carpet shell Tapes corrugata, Warty venus Venus verrucosa and Rayed Artemis Dosinia exolata. A picture of the latter being eaten by a common starfish:
Turban top shells Gibbula magus were on my list to get for the aquarium and I noticed that this species is extremely common (several per square meter) so I took a bunch home. The shells look pretty beaten up with lots of stuff growing on ’em but I think they are pretty cool; truly subtidal so no risk of them creeping out of the tank:We then made it back to the rocky coast and found a nice gully with overhanging rocks with lots of interesting critters. One little cove was home to ten or so shy Leopard-spotted gobies (I plan to go back with my GoPro and leave it there filming for half an hour to pick it up later). We found a big lobster Homarus vulgaris, a beautiful Bispira volutacornis worm (I have already posted pics of these species recently and I will try to show more self-restrainst from now on and not keep posting similar photos). Also for the first time some large Edible sea urchins Echinus esculentus. Probably a really common species when you dive a little deeper but the very first time I saw it. Have to practice a bit more with the new Canon Powershot D30 as I am not completely convinced about its qualities yet (I did not bother to post-process any of the pics btw).