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.)
More photography practice lately. I have started to use Photoshop to post-process images, which is hard. I have sat with Thomas Daguerre for a session which was very helpful. For some images, the twiddling is of not much use; the image above of a Bull huss egg case for instance I am pretty happy with as is. Below I have pasted some before and after-Photoshop photo’s. Mostly adjusting highlights and contrast, cropping and playing around with sharpness (in the RAW files), most images tend to be a bit reddish. I have not bothered to tackle the ‘marine snow’ with the Spot Healing brush tool. First, Snakelocks anemones, next, Cocks’ comb Plocamium, then Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata and an old kelp holdfast covered in feeding Grey topshells Gibbula cineraria. On and under the seaweeds I encounter many interesting tiny animals, but it is hard to take good photo’s without a macrolens. I have pasted a couple photo’s below (none have been edited in any way): the Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus (these can also be reddish or brownish, and can be found on a wide variety of seaweeds), a sponge, a juvenile Snakelocks anemone Anemonia viridis (next to a Flat top shell Gibbula umbilicalis) and the Star ascidian Botryllus schlosseri where I later noticed the fecal pellets underneath. Pooping tunicates, that is what we need more pictures of!Finally, some more before- and after- Photoshop images. The first is the nudibranch Rostanga rubra (‘Red doris’) which was only 5mm or so (see also the tiny Daisy anemone in the background). I shot it today, very cold: 4 degrees, and the water might have been only 8 degrees, brrrr! Next, a closeup of the seaweed Osmundea (see the first photo of this post) which shows its interesting pigmentation. The photo’s are nothing special yet, but I notice I am making progress. Excitingly, I just have ordered a macro wetlens and so hope to get some proper macro photography going soon!
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).
A very corny title indeed but wordpress recommended trying to come up with catchy post titles so that’s my excuse… I was very pleased with the way the tank looked after my first serious session of aquascaping. My satisfaction of course did not last for too long. First, I noticed that the water turned cloudy the next day as the result of a bacterial bloom. I quickly changed two buckets of sea water and turned on the skimmer (the Red Sea Max stock skimmer makes an unholy noise and so is usually only on at night (if I don’t forget)). This seemed to help and the water turned clear again within two days or so. I had not expected a bloom to occur, as I added seaweeds (removing nutrients) rather than animals (adding nutrients), plus I had not been feeding frozen artemia for a while. Anyway, this problem has been solved. It is probably better next time to change the tank in multiple steps rather than making wholesale changes. I next noticed the Harpoon weed starting to whither. This has happened before so it was not a real surprise. A close-up of the Harpoon weed when it was still looking good:
Some Slender-beaded coral weed made it into the aquarium attached to other weeds. As expected, this weed also died and turned white:
I next noticed that the branchlets of the Red grape weed turned from a dark purple-brown into a fresh green. Although pretty, that this was not a change for the better was obvious when upon touching the plant many of the branchlets were shed. I removed this plant before this debris would clog the filter.
The main thing that disappointed me though is that the Bushy rainbow wrack steadily lost its iridescent colors and turned into the brown of the other Bushy wrack species. The fact that I had bright blue, green and purple in my aquarium was the most amazing thing about it. Before and after pics:
I reckon this has to do with the light spectrum not being right. The colors are reminiscent of the Jade vine from the Philippines. Its coloration is the result of two pigments, malvin and saponarin, being present at a specific ratio at a specific alkalinity (wikipedia again). Both Jade vine and Bushy rainbow wrack seem to be fluorescent to my non-expert eye, although a quick search on google did not give me anything on fluorescent plants. Anyway, I will make it my goal in life to find the light conditions that bring back these colors!
To properly experiment with any seaweed it will be desirable to be able to vary the light spectrum and intensity. Probably the best way to go is LED lights, although I am not very knowledgeable about lighting yet and it is all quite complicated (LUX, PAR, micro-Einsteins, Kelvin ratings…) It is also not clear to me if (affordable) LED options are on the market that actually allow you to adjust the light spectrum. I will ask around on some forums. It could also be that the light intensity is not right; I have only used one of the two fluorescent T5 lamps provided with the Red Sea Max 130D as I found the lighting too bright when I started. However, now the tank is full of seaweeds, more of the light will be absorbed and it might not look like I have a tanning bed in the living room. I will pop the other light in and see. The RSM lights are so-called 50/50 lamps that give 50% ‘day light’ and 50% ‘actinic’ (blue) light. Who knows some extra actinic light will help. I need to read up on the subject. There must be other factors as well. For instance room temperature might be too high for some species (this reminds me I need to buy a thermometer!). The Bushy berry wrack, False eyelash weed and Wireweed seem to be doing OK though. Here a picture of Wireweed:
The tank a week after planting:
I am not sure if I like the term aquascaping much because of it’s connotations with gardening and I like a more natural look. However, aquascaping is the general term for arranging plants in an aquarium nowadays and that is what I attempt to do as well with seaweeds. (Also, I cannot pretend that my tank looks particularly like a real rock pool…). Anyway, I will post some more thoughts on the topic of aquascaping, marine or fresh water, later but for now just wanted to show some of the first attempts at planting my aquarium, It is challenging to make any tank look ‘right’, but I found it particularly hard to recreate a rock pool feel. I soon found out that I did not have enough rock in the tank and so hauled some *heavy* ones from a nearby beach. The bare tank:
Some wrack added (I cannot remember what species and cannot tell from the picture, it did well though). A strawberry anemone Actinia fragacea on the right.
Another version with Serrated wrack Fucus serratus (left), a small mop of Dudresnay’s whorled weed Dudresnaya vertillicata (far left) and some Solier’s red string weed Soliera chordalis (middle and right). A bit messy:
A worm pipefish, dog whelk and hermit crab in front of the serrated wrack. There is a lot of algal growth and detritus on the wrack. (I have since bought a circulation pump to keep detritus in suspension so it can go into the filter, more about that later).Another go. The nice thing about having an aquarium with native species is that you can collect them yourself, which is half the fun (and free), and when something does not work out you just chuck it back and try something else. The green seaweed is velvet horn Codium tomentosum, the long brown seaweed is wireweed Sargassum muticum. Both did well, the wireweed grew quite fast, perhaps not a surprise as it is an invasive species in the UK. The red seaweed on the left is dulse Palmaria palmata, on the right harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata. The harpoonweed was not exactly thriving and the dulse was quickly eaten by the prawns:Recently, I noticed the Dudresnay’s whorled weed (love that name) sprouting from the rocks everywhere. This happened some months after removing a pluck of this weed from the aquarium. Up till then I had just planted seaweeds, but having them establish spontaneously I had not seen before. Most of the newly established weeds are only a couple of centimeters and do not seem to grow very fast, but the two weeds pictured above grew to 10 centimeters in a couple of weeks. Perhaps very local conditions in the aquarium matter.