Rumours had it that the viz was great at the North Coast last weekend, and as it was pretty bad at the south Coast, I found some time to drive up to St. Agnes (buying new fins on the way) with the fisheye lens+dome. I was not disappointed: look at that blue sea! The water was clear, the sand was white and the seaweeds were waving on the rock faces. I saw flounder, mullet (thicklipped and red), seabass, sand eels, corkwing wrasse, sand smelt and most interestingly: weeverfish. Swimming above the sand with yellow fins and burying themselves so only the eyes are visible. I saw one half a meter deep on the beach, so it is advisable to wear surfshoes (see here). Unfortunately I could not get a good photo. I tried to take photos with the strobe but that did not really work so all photos here are natural light, trading off ISO, shutterspeed and depth of field to get the right exposure. There were Blue jellyfish around (small, 2-4 inches), and I tried to shoot them over-under but that was a bit too ambitious. Some easier shots instead. I hope to find some big Barrel jellyfish in the coming weeks, as they will be a lot easier to shoot! As the fish proved a bit too fast, and the over-unders a bit too difficult, I tried to take some shots of seaweeds instead. Although I mainly knew it from more sheltered locations, there was quite a bit of Mermaid’s tresses Chorda filum on this exposed coast. There was a lot of discoid forkweek Polyides rotundus on the sand but also on the rocks, and often covered in Falkenbergia. Other species that were abundant were Hairy sandweed Cladostephus spongiosus and Desmarestia ligulata. Hope to return soon!
Above the spot where I have been snorkeling all year at Tunnel Beach, between Castle- and Gylly Beach, in Falmouth (Pendennis Castle can be seen in the background). The best time to snorkel is before low tide, as when the tide comes in the viz gets worse. I try to aim for 50-100 cm above the low tide mark which is really shallow. This area is not a real rock pool but rather a gravelly zone between the rock pools proper and the kelp forest which begins past the last row of rocks on the photo. Last week I went snorkelling three times but only last Thursday had decent viz. The photos below show the abundance of pink Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata, green Sea lettuce Ulva lactuca and new growth of Thong weed Himanthalia elongata and older plants covered in red fuzzy epiphytes. The old wireweed Sargassum muticum plants have died off and the remnants are covered in many epiphytes such as Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticilata, Cock’s comb Plocamium cartilagineum and the pretty Iridescent fern weed Osmundea truncata. However, there is new growth everywhere as well so, like Himanthalia, this species seems to have a half-yearly lifecycle. Below some Irish moss Chondrus crispus next to Wireweed. After that, lots of little fuzzy Falkenbergia growing on top of Discoid forkweed Polyides rotundus. This combination grows in a large patch and looks interesting but I struggled to get decent photos, as the dark seaweeds on very white gravel mess up the white balance big time. Next one or two different species of fine flat reds, the last probably Nitophyllum punctatum. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia is dying off (here overgrown with Asparagopsis and Dictyota) but the related Bushy berry wrack C. baccata is doing well. Among its epiphytes Spiny straggle weed Gelidium spinosum (ID thanks to Seaweeds of the Atlantic facebook page members) which is also freeliving, and finally the green Codium fragile. One time, when the tide came in, the water was super oxygenated, and all surfaces were covered with small silver bubbles which was beautiful (and annoying as the camera lens was also covered). The following photos show a very different looking Codium fragile, C. tamariscifolia overgrown with Sea beach Delesseria sanguinea and more Thong weed.
Above an illustration of the decline of seaweeds: Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticillata all white and fuzzy (see for a more healthy looking plant this post from 2.5 months ago) on a bed of the common and pretty Discoid fork weed Polyides rotundus. There seem to be around 25 or so (larger) species that are common in these pools. Many of them can be seen in the two photos below (including a stray Bladder wrack, a species that dominates the shore just a meter higher): Below, a whole bunch of individual species. First, Sea beech Delesseria sanguinea, which must have washed up from under the kelp beds (too bad I did not get the entire plant in frame…). Second, a photo of Ulva with Chipolata weed Scytosiphon lomentaria. Third, the brown Divided net weed Dictyota dichotoma. Fourth, Slender wart weed Gracilaria gracilis. Fifth, False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata; this plant has grown quite large and has turned from dark red/brown to a much lighter brown. Sixth, the Falkenbergia stage of Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata (see the third photo) on the right. Seventh, Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum. Finally, two photos of my favourite species the blue Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia.
As I noticed that the rock pools have started to look really pretty, I have gone out snorkelling four times the last week to photograph seaweeds. Bitterly cold (around 10°C) but worth it! It is my aim to post photo’s taken at the same spot every month this year, let’s see. The first three days the tide was very low, making it more of a lying on the sand rather than actual snorkelling. The sun was out and my main challenge was to get to grips with overexposure, checking histograms and decreasing image brightness. The other main challenge is to not stir the sand up and create ‘marine snow’. It makes a world of difference to actually stick your head underwater and look through the viewfinder instead of lazily only submerging the camera. For now, I have only cropped and adjusted contrast of jpegs using Picasa, but I have also shot in raw format and hope to get more out of the shots in the near future. With help from the excellent Seasearch Guide to Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland and the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook page some of the species could be identified. Above, Osmundea osmunda (probably), which has a very nice blueish (‘glaucus’) tinge (I need to take some close-ups of that next time). In the following photo, a whole tangle of species, mainly Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, with Osmundea, Asparagopsis, Bonnemaisonia and Leathesia. Next, another picture of a whole variety of species, I would like to find out what the red epiphyte is. Below some photos of individual species of red seaweeds (mostly not great but it gives an idea of the diversity). First, Leafy rose weed Rhodophyllis divaricata, next Falkenbergia (which is actually not a species but a distinct phase in the life cycle of Harpoonweed Asparagopsis Armata), Berry wart cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius, Irish moss Chondrus crispus, Beautiful fan weed Callophyllis laciniata, Under tongue weed Hypoglossum hypoglossoides, Chondrus with Falkenbergia and Hypoglossum and Plocamium on top and a small unknown species. You can see that most photos suffer from overexposure (and notice my crude upped contrasts). The last time I went snorkelling, it was overcast and the tide was higher. I tried a bunch of shots a greater distance away to capture more of an overall impression, but with more water between the subject and the lens the shots become ‘milky’. The next shot of a whole variety of red, green and brown species (with Clawed fork weed Furcellaria lumbricalis in the middle) could have been really nice with clearer water, better framing and correct exposure! The next shot shows Cladostephus and Thong weed Himanthalia elongata on top of a rock covered with Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum (also on the last photo).
The lowest tide of the century so far, on a Saturday, with beautiful weather and on a stunning location: what could go wrong? Very little! St. Michael’s Mount, Marazion, Mount’s Bay is one of the most beautiful spots in Cornwall and an excellent site for rock pooling with a mixture of eelgrass beds, rocks and sandy expanses. I felt like a kid in a candy shop: wanting to turn every stone, photograph every seaweed and inspect every gully before the tide would come back in. I needed to collect some more Clawed fork weed Furcellaria lumbricalis for a cool student project. That was abundant so easy to sort. Chock full of Pheasant shells Tricolia pullus. One other amazing thing was that the place was littered with Bull huss Scyliorhinus stellaris (a.k.a. Nursehound, a.k.a. Large-spotted dogfish) mermaids purses. Mount’s bay is an important breeding ground for these sharks. The yolk was easy to spot, but the embryo’s still to small to be seen. There were loads of pretty seaweeds gently waving among the eelgrass in the crystal clear water. I saw a bright green Chameleon prawn swimming about, but the picture I took was a bit underwhelming.
I had met up with David Fenwick, so could get all species identified on the spot. Very striking was a great amount of small, fuzzy pink seaweed balls: Falkenbergia, the tetrasporophyte stage of the Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata (it looks so different from the gametophyte stage, see some old posts, that it was long considered a separate species). Also, a picture of Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia, simply because one cannot post too many pictures of Bushy rainbow wrack….
The find of the day (the month probably) was a Little cuttlefish Sepiola atlantica. This picture is crap, but David has made some stunning photos back in his lab and they will appear sometime soon on his aphotomarine site I am sure.