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!

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!

rockpool photography

I have been out twice this week with the Canon G16 with the hope of snapping a few good photos (out of the hundreds I take). It was trickier than usual, in part because the viz was not great but also because I am making a bit less progress I feel. Investing in an expensive DSLR + housing will get me further but I do not know if it will be worth the money. However, I still have a lot to do when when it comes to mastering the principles of photography, especially getting to grips with manual settings. In this post I will highlight some of the ‘issues’ am facing; who knows I will be lucky and get some feedback via the blog (and instagram), sharing is caring! As usual, I focussed on the seaweed diversity, although at this time of year it is not the best looking. The photo above is nothing special (the seaweed looks a bit straggly) but I like the blue background. It is interesting the wide diversity of seaweed species on the Red rags in the photo below and I like the contrast of the green sea lettice versus the brown Bushy berry wreck in the second photo but both pics are a bit meh. A main difficulty is that many times the sand (orthe bleached coral weed) contrast with the subject of the photo resulting in excess highlights. I try to counteract this by reducing F-stops (resulting in an overall darker picture) and reduce highlights during post-processing. @chris_exploring recommended to choose overcast rather than sunny days which is probably the best approach (and I will have plenty of opportunities to test this the coming months!) The first pic below of a Two-spotted goby is OK but I could not get quite close enough. The second photo is of course out of focus but I included it anyway to show that some of these photos have great potential. It inspired my own photography rule (the ‘Vos Index’): the beauty of the subject (on a 1-10 scale) times the difficulty of a shot (on a 1-10 scale). We are all trying to score a 100: a perfect capture of a beautiful organism. I am stuck with mediocre captures of beautiful things. Sometimes I get a very good capture but then mostly it is of something not-so beautiful. I shoot JPEG + RAW, which is a bit of a pain as I do not want to clog my hard drive and reviewing and deleting JPEGs and then having to filter for names to delete the associated RAW files is annoying. I actually keep few RAW files because very few photos are worthy of any advanced Photoshop editing, and also the standard Windows photo editing software is not half bad. For example see the photo below of whitebait (impossible to tell if it is herring, sprat or pilchard). It is very low contrast and bluish; by reducing highlights, increasing ‘clarity’ and a bit of cropping the image is completely transformed (although still relatively unusable as the resolution is quite bad).   Finally macro. I just cannot seem to get my strobe to work which is annoying so the pics below are all ambient light. I need to up my game with this as there are so many cool subjects around to shoot if you take time to look. Below some tiny (3-4 mm) snails Rissoa parva. I wanted to zoom in more but was unable to unfortunately. Next a much bigger (2 cm) Netted dog whelk Tritia reticulata (sigh, I knew this as Nassarius reticulatus, and Hinia reticulata but the name has changed again). Next, a baby (3 cm) Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine which are one of the easiest fish I know to photograph, not very shy! Finally another challenge to photograph, a mermaids purse (egg case) of a Nursehound Scyliorhinus stellaris shark with a tiny (2-3 cm) embryo visible. I had a little light with me that I used to illuminate it from the back but this could be improved upon as well!

back in the water

It had been over two months since I last went snorkeling at my spot in Castle Beach. Although I did go on two boatdives (with no photos to show for), let’s say the work-life balance was tipped in the wrong direction. However I had time for a low-tide snorkel this Saturday and it was great to be back in the water, with a Curlew as my only companion. It was the plan to practise strobe photography but unfortunately I did not manage to get my settings right and I was going nowhere. As this is an activity that is supposed to be fun, I decided to ditch the strobe and stick with natural light. Fish I spotted were Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, two-spot gobies, tompot blennies, a fifteenspined stickleback, a dragonet and sand eels: It is pretty much the worst time in the year for seaweeds but the pools are still quite pretty. The first three photos give a general impression of the seaweeds, including Thong weed, Harpoon weed and Irish moss. After that: Codium spp,  Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticillata, a big plant of healthy-looking Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, withered Red rags Dilsea carnosa and Dulse Palmaria palmata growing on a kelp stipe. I called it quits after two hours. On my way back I noticed an abundant green algae species I had not seen before. David Fenwick identified it as actually being a cyanobacterium rather than a seaweed: Rivularia bullata, interesting! Hope to do a lot more snorkeling before it gets too cold…

Gilthead Seabream

Yesterday I went for a late morning snorkel; although the water looked inviting, the viz was disappointing. I did not see anything of interest until I noticed a Seabream (15-20 cm) hanging about, not a species I had seen before! It goes to show that there is no dive or snorkel session whithout something that makes it worthwhile. The fish was not very shy, but I did not have weight or fins so I could not get down to get a proper shot from the side. I found out that this was a Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata). This southern species seems to have become more frequent on the South coast of the UK the last few years, probably due to warming seas. It seems to be known among anglers, but less so among underwater observers (the NBN Atlas only has two records for this species in Cornwall). Other than that the usual Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, Two-spot gobies, Pollack and even a Blenny (very commonly found under rocks while rockpooling but I hardly ever see them when snorkeling).

Good Viz

Wednesday had a good low tide, sun and no wind so I headed out for the water during my (long) lunch break. I was not disappointed with the viz, although the wireweed and thong weed shed tissue (conceptacles and/or epiphytic algae?) which immediately cloud the water so you have to ‘swim and shoot’ before the opportunity is gone. At this time of the year, the seaweed biomass is at its greatest, with lots of Harpoonweed, Wireweed, Sea lettuce, Bushy rainbow wrack and Thong weed but the biodiversity is lower, with many other species such as Discoid forkweed, False eyelash weed, Bonnemaisons Hookweed and Red grape weed gone or decaying. Below some general impressions (more photos from around the same time last year here and here): On the two photos above Bushy berry wreck Cystoseira baccata (along with Brown fan weed and Oyster thief). There are many big snakelocks anemones around and quite some fish, mainly shoals of juvenile pollack, Corkwing wrasse and Ballan wrasse, Two-spot gobies and, beyond the pools above the kelp forest, shoals of sand eels and sand smelt. The wind has picked up again so no more snorkelling in the coming days. I’d love to go for a dive again but my strobe malfunctioned and is back with the manufacturer for repair and so I might wait a bit going back into the water….