The sun is shining (most days) and the water has warmed up, so ideal conditions for a bit of snorkeling. I have been out at my usual spot in Falmouth (rockpools and kelp forest) and my local beach in Flushing (seagrass) (and yes, I really count myself lucky every time that l live here!). The last couple of times I have brought my son along, as he is now old enough (nine). He is a nature freak just like his dad, actually probably more so! I need to get him fins and a weight belt soon, but he has been doing fine in the water already.
The photos above and below illustrate the state of the rock pools at the moment: quite brownish with the Sargassum and Himanthalia growing everywhere. The red, pink and purple species have largely disappeared (apart from Harpoon weed) and there is quite a bit of green Ulva growing. The water teems with juvenile pollack in the rock pools and schools of sand eels a bit further out. Diving over sandy patches, you can see the latter species shooting out of the sand en masse. It is crazy how such a silvery pelagic fish can also burrow in the sand. I guess it does take its toll, as there are quite some dead ones to be seen too.
The Flushing snorkel site is very different, no (deep) rockpools, only a little bit of kelp but with a very healthy patch of seagrass. No catsharks or thornback rays when we went in, just the odd small sea bass. There are many small Snakelocks anemones on the seagrass. I used to think that it was mostly the purple form that did this but I now noticed that most were the green variety, so the morphs do not seem to differ in this respect after all. One anemone had ‘caught’ a crystal jellyfish (an Aequorea medusa). Not sure if it was in the process of being digested or just ‘stuck’.
I have played around with my new INON strobe, which works a lot better than my old strobe. I have ordered a second one for Wide Angle photos too….(as you can see there is quite some backscatter in the pic of the Shore Crab above). I will need to get back to some shore diving to make optimal use of two strobes, as I am too lousy a freediver to get the lighting and exposure right in one breath!
Last week it was time to check the state of the seaweeds and as expected they looked glorious. Unfortunately it was a bit windy and choppy and so the viz left something to be desired, argh! These are some of the better pics. I am in the process of creating a gallery of seaweed species (just reds to begin with), see the link at the very top of the blog. This is by no means a proper guide, as for that you often need more detail than just underwater impressions, but extra images might help in conjuction with a proper guide such as the “Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland” Seasearch book. Anyway, I have started gathering old pics and hope to add more soon. The common flat red species in the photos above and below is very pretty but it is one of these species you need to look at under the microscope so I will not attempt to label it with a name (yet). Other species can be identified more easily, such as Under tngue weed Hypoglossum hypoglossoides (two photos below).Below, Thong Weed Himanthalia elongata, Little Fat Sausage Weed Champia parvula and Juicy Whorl Weed Chylocladia verticillata and a bit of Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia covered in red epiphytes.
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!
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 Ulvalactuca 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.
Less than 12 hours back in Cornwall and I managed to slide into the rock pools at Castle Beach in Falmouth this Saturday to see what the seaweeds looked like. There was a noticeable difference with only a week ago. The speed at which seaweeds grow, and decline, still amazes me. I managed to take my best photo yet, of Red rags Dilsea carnosa (surrounded by a whole bunch of other species), above. I made so many photos that I will split them over two posts, with some general ‘seaweeds scapes’ here and with individual species in the next post. The Sea lettuce Ulva has been taking over parts of the pools, turning it a bright green. The reds of the Juicy whorl weed and Berry wart cress and pink of Harpoon weed are less bright, and the Red grape weed and Fern weeds are turning ‘fuzzy’. Still, the seaweeds are much bigger and cover most of the seabed and it looks very exuberant. The Wire weed and the Thong weed (or ‘spaghetti weed’) Himanthalia elongata have been rapidly growing; the latter consisted of ‘buttons’ in January and are now a meter long, so must grow around a centimetre a day. The fronds are covered in flakes (which must be reproductive structures) that come off when you swim through them, clouding the water and so ruining the shot if you do not take it straight away. The sun came out more in the last photos, hence the different light (I have edited most (not all) photos slightly using standard Windows Photos, mainly by decreasing the highlights). More photos very 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).
I have been a bit busy and so the photos below are some weeks old. The seaweeds are in decline already it seems. Actually, that is not true, there are plenty of seaweeds growing, but some of the prettier ones are dying off and some of the uglier ones are taking over. The window to take the nicest rock pool shots is quite short, pretty much early spring only. The ubiquitous False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata is yellowing, the green Sea lettuce Ulva lactuca is starting to cover everything and the Red grape weed is getting ‘fluffy’. Not the best session photo quality-wise and probably the last of the year. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia is abundant and looking good (on the photo with Discoid forkweed Polyides rotundus) and I managed I nice shot of young Thong (or Spaghetti) weed Himanthalia elongata. I have done some more research into ‘proper’ underwater cameras and was tipped of about the Canon G16 (thanks Thomas from HydroMotion Media), maybe something for next year….The past couple of times when focusing on the seaweeds I also encountered some animals (it is hard not to). Many Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis, with some having very short tentacles. Next, a Decorator crab Macropodia rostrata covered in Banded pincer weed Ceramium. Mermaid’s purses (egg cases) of the Bull huss/Greater-spotted Dogfish/Large-spotted Catshark/Nursehound Scyliorhinus stellaris seem to be exclusively attached to Bushy rainbow wrack. Finally, a Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus on Wireweed Sargassum muticum.
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. It 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).)Some 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.I 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!
This snorkel session was also the first time I took a proper look underneath the kelp. Mowing through this forest is very interesting. Besides the gobies and starfish, there are a lot of sponges, bryozoans and hydroids to be seen. A picture from this ‘turf’ with many hydrozoans and a larger erect bryozoan (perhaps an Alcyonidium species?); these are groups I know very little about. A photo beneath that of some worms Bispiravolutacornis, very beautiful:
The kelp is covered by a not so pretty, large, fluffy brown seaweed which might be Pylaiella littoralis (first picture). Large bushes of the slightly iridescent Dictyota dichotoma were also common, this is a species I have never seen in rock pools (second picture). The rocks underneath the kelp are also home to many red seaweeds, notably Sea Oak (I have to get back for some pictures).
In the deeper channels there were many Mermaid’s tresses Chorda filum, more than five meters in length. The shallow rocks were covered with Thongweed Himanthalia elongata and Grape pip weed Mastocarpus stellatus with assorted epiphytic tufts of fine red seaweeds.