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.
Coralline algae, pink and purple, feathery or encrusting, are a conspicuous part of the local rock pools. When viewed close up, even the crusts are not boring, as they reveal little stalks and holes forming reproductive structures. The above species could be Common pale paint weed Lithophyllum incrustans or Common purple paint weed Phytamoliton purpureum; it is hard to tell species apart and there are likely more species than the few described on websites or in books. In the third photo, the thinner crusts are probably Phymatolithon lenormandii. Only when looking at close-up photos it becomes apparent that juvenile limpets (Patella spp) and White tortoise shell limpets Tectura virginea are very common. Coralline algae are desirable in tropical reef aquariums, as they cover the brownish live rock in pretty colors. There are even special supplements for sale to promote their growth. They need low phosphates and sufficent calcium (as well as magnesium) to grow well, just as hard corals do. Good light helps, although there are also species that thrive under low light. I have a bit of coralline algae in my tank, but only in spots with high flow, so that seems important too. It might be a nice experiment to take a small tank, with a good light source and a decent pump (with rowaphos to keep phosphates down), and add some coralline algae-covered rocks to see what happens. Doing frequent 100% water changes will replenish calcium and magnesium, and not adding animals and food will keep nutrient levels minimal. With some interesting rock formations, it could develop into something pretty.The species Titanoderma pustulatum grows on other seaweeds, such as Irish moss Chondrus crispus on the photo above. Pink plates Mesophyllum lichenoides are coralline algae that are very common on the mid- and lower shore here in Falmouth. They look a bit like a miniature version of Montipora corals. At the moment, some individuals are covered in knobbly reproductive structures housing spores. Pink plates grows epiphytically on Common coral weed Corallina officinalis, the species that makes up the bulk of the coralline algae in the rock pools (see second photo of this post, on the right). Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens is also quite common at the moment. Corallina and Jania can be seen growing side by side in the second-last photo. Jania here grows epiphytically on Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus (this species is normally fuzzy but in winter the branches are bare and slender). I hope to go diving soon and take more photos of the most ‘spectacular’ coralline algae: maerl.
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).
Another couple of sessions trying to take seaweed photo’s. A couple of seaweed species are really thriving at the moment, one is False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata in the middle of the picture above. In the picture below a couple of other species, Irish moss Chondrus crispus in the foreground, Discoid forkweed Polyides rotundus on the left, Black scourweed Ahnfeltia plicata on the right, with some Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum at the top. Below that two ‘miscellanious’ pictures and after that some photos of individual species: the photo that turned out best was of Bonnemaison’s hook weed Bonnemaisonia hamifera, an invasive species from the Pacific. After that Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticilliata, a Plocamium species and my favourite, the Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia.
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!
The aquarium was in desperate need of a make-over (again…). I hauled a ton of rocks over from the beach and stacked them up. (I thought at first that I would need something to stick the rocks together (epoxy, superglue or waterfall foam) but that wasn’t really necessary). I also removed most of the gravel and replaced it with sand. So quite a big change but it really looks a lot better. However, my nice burrowing Red-speckled anemones suffered a bit when putting the sand in, and even after siphoning it off again I could not really find them anymore….hopefully they turn up again! The aquarium is still a bit bare and I have to go out and collect things that will live on the rocks, such as anemones and seaweeds. However, there is some progress on the seaweed front. There is a bit of Irish moss Chondrus crispus growing spontaneosly from the back wall. There are also some patches of pink corraline algae; which must be Coral weed Corralina officinalis judging from one outgrowing patch. Having this species grow would be great, but they do not seem like fast growers. Chrysymenia wrighti is still thriving on the circulation pump; I remove a bit every now and then, so it acts as an ‘algae scrubber’, removing nutrients from the water. I have placed a couple of other seaweeds in the aquarium, a bit risky as they can die off and start trouble, but I can’t help it. The red Soliera chordalis below has done well before but unfortunately has started to die off a little already (first pic). I have a big piece of a flat red species that has started to grow from nowhere as well (second pic).One day, the aquarium was full of strings of Painted topshell eggs. I noticed when feeding a day later that the water was not very cold: I had forgotten to switch the pump/chiller back on two days previously! So the trick to breed this species is to increase the temperature, although I am not expecting much to happen with the eggs. Either the Thick-lipped or Netted dogwhelks are also occasionally sticking their egg masses to the glass. I placed a chunk of orange Estuarine sponge in the aquarium; this was devoured by Painted topshells and Cushion stars, so it is a good bit of live food to add. I had planted a little washed-up eelgrass plant to see if it would survive and indeed it has grown more roots. (If you want to try this yourself, please always use washed up plants and don’t dig out any, as eelgrass beds are vulnerable habitats.) It would be great to have a second tank dedicated to eelgrass….The little scallop is still happy (see close-up). I have added another filter feeder: a Leathery sea squirt Styela clavata. Butt-ugly, but that is actually fun too. I am trying it out as they are an invasive species and so probably pretty hardy. A Sting winkle seems to like it (but not eat it). I have never seen my two Sting winkles eat anything actually. They move about very slowly, but they have grown.Now the snakelocks anemones are gone, I have added some more fish. I have caught some juvenile Pollack Pollachius pollachius with my net. At first I caught ones that were less than an inch, but they did not survive. Of the six two-inch or so ones I caught, three dissappeared after one day, but the remaining three are going strong. Very nice looking fish! I also caught a little Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine (by hand at low tide). It is quite shy, but is increasingly showing itself. A beautiful little fish! I have one remaining Two-spotted goby. The Common goby is doing very well and eats from my hand. I think I’ll go for another little tompot, more Pollack and Two-spotted gobies. Ideally I would catch some Leopard-spotted gobies with a trap when diving, let’s see….The other fish I would like to have again is the Goldsinny wrasse: very pretty and not as nervous as Corkwing wrasse.
After some musing on animals that I had good- (here and here) or bad (here) experiences with during the past year-and-a-bit that I have my aquarium, I thought it would also be good to take stock of my experiences with seaweeds. Not many people have temperate marine aquariums, and only few of those who do seem to focus on seaweeds. That is understandable, because it is hard keeping seaweeds! I currently have almost no seaweeds in my tank, as I wanted a break from the problems I had with die backs and resulting detritus. Below a picture of my 130 liter aquarium at its prettiest (see this post); unfortunately it did not look that way for long (see this post):Although keeping seaweeds in the aquarium is difficult, they are so beautiful, diverse and abundant that it is definitely worthwhile to try. The range of shapes and colors is much greater than that of the vascular plants in freshwater tanks. Also, the fact that so few people seriously try to grow different seaweeds in their tank makes it an extra interesting challenge. My fellow aquarists reading this will agree that it is great to look at a ‘finished’ tank, but building it up and experimenting to ‘get it right’ is an integral part of the fun. Keeping a native tank means that you can collect yourself which is a great activity in itself (and free). being able to observe organisms in their own habitat also gives you some clues on how to best keep them in the aquarium. Anyway, below my personal- and somewhat disjointed thoughts on the topic of keeping seaweeds in the aquarium (with some links to previous posts). Quite a lot to write about so I’ll save some pondering for a part II.
1. Many Seaweeds are seasonal
Coming back to the same rock pools over the course of the year, it is very striking to see the composition of seaweed species change. Some species are annuals and always there (although sometimes somewhat overgrown and smaller), but many species are only abundant for a season or even less than that. For example, Dumont’s tubular weed Dumontia contorta was abundant only in early spring this year, whereas Codium tomentosum has just appeared now and will disappear come spring. This must be due to adaptation to annual variations in temperature and daylight (and competition with other species that are present in different months). Although light and temperature conditions can be kept constant in the aquarium, seaweeds are likely ‘programmed’ to thrive at specific times of the year. So in contrast to fresh water planted aquariums where plants just grow and need occasional trimming but otherwise stay the same, marine planted tanks never stay the same. A good example of how a tank can change over time is the series of monthly pictures taken by Jon Olav of his Norwegian native aquarium. I guess for some people, the unpredictability of seaweeds is a downside, not an upside.
2. ‘Planting’ Seaweeds is difficult
The above picture is of Grape pip weed Mastocarpus stellatus. Like many seaweeds, it is very firmly attached to the rocks. Ripping it off results in a handful of separate fronds which will just float around when transferred to the aquarium. Such species (see here for another example) can only be brought over to the aquarium attached to a rock. Some species readily grow on smaller rocks (Solier’s red string weed often is washed up attached to shells) but others don’t. It is possible with suitably shapedseaweeds to weigh them down using a piece of string and a pebble. (I am not sure about the lead weights used to weigh down plants in freshwater aquariums; on one hand lead is toxic, but on the other hand a layer of lead oxide will form around the weight which prevents leaching. Leaching should be less of a problem in salt water which is slightly alkaline anyway. I’ll stick with pebbles in any case!) Some seaweeds on Castle beach in Falmouth when pulled from the substrate take with it a shard of rock, which makes it easy to anchor them in the aquarium (check):
3. Seaweeds can get eaten
Herbivores, such as snails or prawns can start munching on some seaweeds, especially flat greens and reds seemed vulnerable. Perhaps if you provide enough food, they will leave the seaweeds alone (but you risk overfeeding and the disasters that come with that of course). If you are really into your seaweeds, you could also choose to ditch such critters.