Silver Steps Diving

Finally a shore dive yesterday evening, it has been a long time. I partnered up with buddy Shannon via instagram (@shannonmoranphoto). Instagram has been a really nice way to learn about photography from likeminded folks (such as @danboltphoto and @malcolmnnimmo). We dived (dove?) Silver Steps in Falmouth, about which you can find a bunch of old snorkelling and diving posts on the blog if you are interested. Shannon was the ideal buddy: relaxed and really into photography, so we kept the same tempo. It was a very shallow dive (maybe 5 meters), so we were only limited by getting cold, which was after an hour. I chose to use my 60mm lens, but not to use the 1:1 macro setting, but the 0.19-040 focal range to try my hand at slightly larger objects such as fish. I was thus lucky in a sense that I did not encounter any beautiful nudibranchs of which I would not be able to to take a good shot. (Edit: actually, I since learned that 1:1 is still possible using this focal range). It was however unfortunate that I could not get a good shot of a cuttlefish that hovered about two meters away, rapidly changing colour and catching a wrasse! Next time I will perhaps change settings again to try my hand at (cuttle)fish swimming a bit further away. However, I was very happy with sticking to Leopard-spotted gobies Thorogobius ephippiatus. They do not stick their little faces out of nooks as do most blennies, but usually lie on and under ledges. The trick was to approach very slowly, shooting until they swam off. For some reason, I managed to position my strobe right and did not have backscatter issues. I used Windows Photos to postprocess. See below for a before and after example: Two other common organisms below: a Squat lobster Galathea rugosa and a Twin fan worm Bispira volutacornis. And finally an out of focus, but fun photo of a tiny tiny clingfish very aptly clinging to Shannon’s housing. This was one of the most fun dives in ages and I hope to repeat it sometime soon!

last two dives of the year

IMG_2041Summer is really over and the water temperatures are down from around 17°C to 13°C. We have not made it to any of the wrecks or rocks off The Lizard and the last set of dives was just of the good old Silver Steps in Falmouth. We had set ourselves some goals though: Chris needed Snakelocks anemones for his student projects and I wanted to catch myself some Leopard-spotted gobies for the aquarium. The Snakelocks were collected quite easily as they are so abundant. For the fish, I had bought a cheap foldable trap. The idea was to set it up in a little overhang housing the gobies, weighing it down with some rocks and come back the next day to take it back out. For bait, I had brought a chickenbone leftover from someones lunch at work. Below, a crappy pick of the trap wedged between rocks and below that a snap of some of the catch the next day (I had a two-piece websuit and in combination with an almost empty tank I was getting too buoyant to take decent photos): IMG_2081IMG_2109Three nosy Tompot blennies and also a small Conger eel; no Leopard-spotted gobies. So at least I know that in principle next year I can try trapping fish, but it might be hard for the gobies as they are very reclusive and do not barge into nets as Tompots do. The first dive, the visibility was OK(ish) and we saw a Cuttlefish Sepia officinalis. Although I have seen them before, you never get tired of them!

IMG_2069 IMG_2074No other special finds. The place was absolutely swarming with Spiny starfish and most Snakelocks seemed to have multiple Leach’s spider crabs underneath them. I saw another Blackfaced blenny. Next year it is high time to dive further and deeper and also to finally get some gobies into the aquarium!IMG_2098

Aquarium Update 10

Another short aquarium update (I noticed that the blog has been more about rock pooling recently than aquarium keeping, hence the change in blog header). I had very little time to do much with the tank and have not bothered with water changes or cleaning the mechanical filter. On the upside, there is little algal growth and creatures are generally happy (occasionally eating each other of course). Seaweeds have started to grow spontaneously, see for instance the Irish moss on the Turban topshell on the right of the picture below. On the downside, the aquarium does not look particularly nice overall (the reason I have not included a tankshot). It needs a lot more rocks. Also, the filtration is bad; although the water is very clear, there is quite a lot of debris. This issue is hard to fix, and sometimes I am toying with the idea of getting a larger tank with a sump (instead of dealing with the crappy Red Sea Max back compartment).IMG_6600I will get rid of the sea urchins, as I am not sure the molluscs appreciate getting stuck to them. I have already gotten rid of the voracious snakelocks anemones and put them in a small tank (I will post about that soon). I have added a small scallop (Pecten maximus), which is very cool, and occasionally swims to another spot. I hope it will find enough to eat in the water.IMG_6896So the plan is to get a lot more rocks in. Perhaps I need a second Tunze circulation pump to get rid of debris. Without the snakelocks I can add more fish. Ideally I would like to keep Leopard-spotted gobies Thorogobius ephippiatus (see this old post) but they are extremely shy fish that live subtidally, so that would require a suitable trap and a lot of luck. I would also like more anemones (just like the very nice North American tanks on the Coldwater Marine Aquarium Owners Facebook group, see the links page). I have the impression that larger anemones have a better chance of surviving; perhaps in summer I can find some nice ones when diving. The Dahlia anemone has been eaten by Cushion stars and the smallest Strawberry anemony has been chased throug the tank by Painted top shells, Cushion stars and Snakelocks and now is half dead. So fish and anemones do not always  go well together, the same is true for snails and anemones and (in the case of blennies and gobies at least) fish and snails… Before considering new inhabitants however I need to get the tank looking a bit nicer.

Snorkelling at Silver Steps Part I

High time for a snorkel, and few better places in the area than ‘Silver Steps’, between Castle Beach and Pendennis Point in Falmouth. I took my little Lumix camera (goes up to 10 meters deep, no optical zoom) with me to take some sub-standard pics (all other photos on the blog are taken with my iPhone). This site is a mix of rocks covered in kelp and gravel and even the remains of two U-Boats (they are no longer recognisable as such though, see here for more specifics on these and other wrecks off Falmouth). There is always something to see: schools of Smelt chased by Sand eels, hovering Two-spotted gobies, Corkwing and Ballan wrasse, Spiny starfish and loads of seaweeds. In fact, there was so much to see that I have divided the pictures over two posts. First a photo of the site and some of the U-Boat wreckage:P1040041

P1040031We were in for a nice surprise: a good-sized John Dory Zeus faber at around seven meters depth. I have posted a very nice picture from my first and only dive in Cornwall courtesy of Charlotte Sams, but here a short, jittery video as well:

Anyway, a perhaps even nicer find were Leopard-spotted gobies Thorogobius ephippiatus. Some sources make it seem like this is a rare species only ever encountered by divers, but it is actually not uncommon and we saw them at two meters down (the tide was low though). It is a shy species that lives under ledges, burying between the rock and the gravel. The picture is crap but also proof I am not lying. The next picture is of a Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine peeking from a crack in the rocks. Large snakelocks anemones are everywhere on the kelp, and although a month ago I saw none, many of them again housed commensal Leach’s spider crabs Inachus phalangium. (These anemones and crabs do well in the aquarium btw, see here.) It would be interesting to know if these crabs arrive from deeper waters or just grow up really fast.