First proper snorkel session of the year

GyllingvaseThis Thursday was only sunny, but also not windy, with a good low tide in the early afternoon, which meant I reserved a few hours to go to Tunnel/Castle/Gylly beach for some snorkelling. The photo above shows Gylly Beach, with the start of Swanpool lagoon behind it and the Lizard in the far distance. (I took this with my iPhone using a Hipstamatic filter; for more iPhone pics of Cornwall see cornwall_hipsta on instagram…). The water temperature was OK (9C?) but the viz was not as good as I hoped. The seaweeds are at their peak now and the pools looked very pretty. Not many fish, but I saw a small brown thing floating around which I first thought was Sea hare, but turned out to be a small (perhaps a Connemara) clingfish lazing about until it noticed me and bolted into the seaweeds. I carefully snorkelled in about half a meter of water, admiring the views and trying to take photos close-up (as the viz was not too good) with my wide angle wetlens. Below an above-water shot of some iridescent Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and the invasive red Bonnemaisonia hamifera (on the left). I need to go back studying photography basics. A main challenge is contrast. The pools have beautiful white sand, which result in hugely overexposed photos (or completely darkened subjects). I have come up with my own law, the Photography Frustration Index (PFI): the beauty of the subject (B) x the difficulty of capturing it (D). The PFI is very high in the case of seaweeds! Next: Bushy rainbow wrack under Thong weed, Purple claw weed Cystoclonium purpureum, Bushy berry wrack Cystoseira nodulosum covered with the epiphytes Asparagopsis (left) and Bonnemaisonia (right), Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata (you can see they grow in the sand and must be used to scouring) a ‘bouquet’ of different species (with a snakelocks anemone) and a last photo of a variety of species, including the common False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. The tides and weather conditions are unfavourable the coming days but I hope to go snorkeling again end of the week!IMG_9393

a tiny rock pool

Last weekend I went down to Gylly Beach in Falmouth for a bit of rock pooling. However, the tide was not very low (especially with the inshore wind) and the weather was crap. Moreover, I could not find anything that I had not seen many times before; although rock pool life is very biodiverse, there have started to be dimishing returns when looking for non-microscopic organisms. Clambering over yet another rock, I decided to stop and play around with my Canon Powershot instead. I focused on a tiny pool (around two by four feet) completely covered in corraline algae. IMG_2285It does not look like much but taking the time for a carefully look was really rewarding. It is tricky to take photographs without being able to see the viewfinder though. My strategy has been to just take loads of pictures and hope some of them work out. The miniature underwater landscape was really beautiful. Pink plates Mesophyllum lichenoides made up the largest proportion of corraline algae (some bearing ‘reproductive conceptacles’). Another species is Corallina officinalis or Common coral weed (third photo). I had some Corallina growing in my aquarium at some point, but it grew very slowly and has now disappeared. Being able to create the right conditions for coralline algae to thrive in a coldwater aquarium would be fantastic, but I have not seen any evidence of anyone being able to cover their aquarium in them yet. (I have tried ‘planting’ Corallina and although it looked very nice at first (fifth pic), these seaweeds quickly died off, turning orange and then white (second pic).)IMG_2264IMG_2262IMG_2402Some other seaweed species were present as well; Irish moss and Harpoonweed (not pictured), False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata occurred in multiple patches, Rhodophyllis divaricata?, an Osmundea species and Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum. There were also a few brown seaweeds, the characteristic Thong (or Spaghetti) weed Himanthalia elongata buttons and the invasive (and pervasive) Wireweed Sargassum muticum.IMG_2287IMG_2272 IMG_2375 IMG_2308IMG_2327IMG_2291I did not spot too many animals, although I am sure there is an enormous hidden diversity present among the seaweeds. I noticed a red-white Dahlia anemone Urticina felina as well as some patches of a colonial brown tunicate. I’d like to go back soon and take some more pictures, with my Canon powershot or with my GoPro. I have an SLR as well that I have not been using lately as my iPhone is such a good camera and hassle-free. SLR underwater housings are really expensive, but I recently discovered that there are quite cheap waterproof SLR bags available which might be an option to try to take higher quality photos (in rock pools, I would not go diving or snorkeling with them). It would be very cool to try to make panorama pictures of rock pools, especially when taking one each month in the same spot to capture seasonality. More seaweed photos, Canon powershot or otherwise, to follow soon!IMG_2364 IMG_2314

More Jellies

A second, long snorkel session at Gylly Beach yesterday. Loads of Sand eels, no cuttlefish but there were a couple of beautiful Compass jellyfish Chrysaora hysoscella around, with tentacles up to a meter long (first pic). Smaller and less visible was Aequorea forskalea or A. vitrina (second pic)*. A close relative of this species gave molecular biology ‘green fluorescent protein‘ (gfp). P1040132

P1040123This time we swam out a bit further, over the sandy bottom which seems quite lifeless compared to the rocky kelp forest. However, the fauna is very different here so it was definitely worth it. I found my first Sea potato Echinocardium cordatum (about to be eaten by a Spider crab). Near the buoys, at around nine meters depth or so there was (sparse) seagrass. Back on the beach I noticed that my lumix camera was flooded. I was somehow convinced that it could go up to ten meters deep but actually the sticker on it quite clearly stated that it was waterproof only up until three meters….Ah well, I will have to switch back to my Canon Powershot with waterproof case then.P1040136*= From the facebook group NE Atlantic Cnidaria: A. forskalea : up to ca 120 marginal tentacles, usually fewer than the radial canals but ranging from half to twice as many; radial canals 60-80; max diameter ca 175mm” and for A. vitrina: “60-100 marginal tentacles, three or more times the number of radial canals; radial canals 60-100; max diameter ca 100-170mm”.

two great encounters

Another snorkeling post. Last weekend off Gylly Beach and without a wet suit (sea water temperature close to 20C now!). Plenty of fish about, with my first snorkel sightings of Sea bass Dicentrachus labrax and small groups of Red mullet Mullus surmeletus. Much to my surpise I also spotted a Cuttlefish Sepia officinalis half hiding between dead seaweed drifting in the shallows. It was not particularly scared and stayed put while I swam around it but after a while it let out a squirt of ink and moved on. Of course this was just when I did not bring my lumix camera, so the next day I went back and luckily it was in exactly the same spot:P1040092It did not end there. I next spotted a beautiful Blue jellyfish Cyanea lamarckii gently pulsating through the water column. Inbetween the tentacles three tiny fish were hiding, most probably juvenile Horse mackerel Trachurus trachurus:P1040095

low tide

The tides were good this weekend and so we went out to Gylly (Gyllyngvase) Beach in Falmouth, specifically the rocks to the west of the beach (I normally go to Castle Beach to the east):

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Although the tide was quite low, no special sublittoral species were encountered, but everything time you go out you still see something new. For instance, a newly moulted Furrowed crab, Xantho incisus pink and soft next to its old brown carapace: IMG_5469

There were very many small Blue-rayed limpets Helcion pellucidum (see also here) on the kelp:IMG_5412

A tiny Rissoa parva snail:IMG_5409

and a Painted top shell Calliostoma zizyphinum:IMG_5457

Some dark green Cladophora rupestris:IMG_5437

A fine red seaweed (I do not know which one) growing on top of Dulse Palmaria palmata growing in turn on top of kelp: IMG_5455