a shallow Maerl dive

The weather was not great last weekend and we were too late at the diveshop on Saturday to be back in time to get the tanks refilled for a dive on Sunday but the one dive was (as always) worth the effort! We took dive buddy Chris’s boat from Loe Beach in Feock over to the other side of the Fal Estuary (between St. Just and St. Mawes) to explore the Maerl beds. See an earlier post on a snorkel trip to see this bed of ‘Cornish coral’ for some more background information. After the usual faffing about with equipment on board we plunged in the water. I took a single photo of the boat which turned out quite dramatic:IMG_1869Although we were diving 1-2 hours before high water (the best time, as clear seawater is pushed in the estuary), the visibility was quite bad. After going just a couple of meters down, fields of maerl loomed into view (the dive was really shallow, 5.9 meters max I think!). There were quite a lot of Thornback ray Raya clavata egg cases (foreground first picture) but we did not see the rays themselves. There are two main Maerl genera around here,¬†Phymatolithon and Lithothamnion but their growth forms are varied and there are other encrusting Pink paint weeds that could look similar. We saw a number of golf balls that were completely covered in coralline algae, quite cool.IMG_1946IMG_1871IMG_1945IMG_1989We saw a couple of *very well* camouflaged crabs sitting about. They were completely covered by sponges, coralline algae and seaweeds. There are a number of crab species shaped like this but most of them seem too small. Best guess is the Toad crab Hyas coarctatus the Europan spidercrab Maja squinado in a particular extravagant mood. There are lots of little things hiding in the Maerl; gobies (rock gobies I think), squat lobsters, swimming crabs, hooded prawns and things that hide faster than I can identify them. I noticed a dainty little prawn sitting about which is probably Thoralus cranchii, although it could also be Eualus occultus (second picture is cropped).IMG_1969IMG_1971 IMG_1887IMG_1957 IMG_1957 - CopySwimming crabs were common and probably mostly were the Harbour crab Liocarcinus depurator. The first picture was the only one with flash and shows the Maerl colours a bit better. The second photo shows a Velvet swimming crab Necora puber under a snakelocks anemone sitting on top of a bottle. This species can be very commonly seen rockpooling. Lastly an empty shell of the largest European sting winkle Ocenebra erinaceus I have seen so far and probably the largest sponge I have seen so far too (with a human head for scale).IMG_1927 IMG_1982 IMG_1898 IMG_1995

Diving the mouth of the Helford

A quick post on a dive a couple of weeks ago, my first boat dive in Cornwall. Four divers left from Loe Beach in Feock on the Fal Estuary to find the wreck of the Rock Island Bridge at the mouth of the Helford River. On our way we saw a Harbour porpoise which was a first for me, great! The mouth of the Helford is only slightly deeper (nine meters) than it is off Grebe Beach where we usually dive. There is no eelgrass here, just some Divided net weed Dictyota dichotoma and very large Sugar kelp Saccharina latissima lying flat on the bottom. The seabed is an expanse of gravel covered with quite a lot of bivalves: Great scallop Pecten maximus, Rayed artemis Dosinia exoleta, Norway cockle Laevicardium crassum, Dog cockle Glycymeris glycymeris, Common ottershell Lutraria lutraria, Warty venus Venus verrucosa, Pullet carpet shell Tapes corrugata and Hardshell clam Mercenaria mercenaria amongst them. Next time I will collect shells so I can take a good picture of all of them back on land. The place was swarming with starfish feeding on these bivalves, I’d say 90% Common starfish and 10% Spiny starfish. Below a Common starfish Asterias rubens feeding on a clam, a small brittlestar Amphipholis squamata and a Warty venus and Pullet carpet shell.IMG_1545IMG_1542IMG_1592Although the seabed was relatively featureless and we did not manage to find the wreckage, it was fun to watch the Thornback rays Raya clavata (including a large individual with distinctive black headmarkings) and the many Small-spotted catsharks (or dogfish) Scyliorhinus canicula which are very easy to approach. We also saw a Red gurnard Aspitrigla cuculus (see also this old post). However, it is high time we are going to explore some other, deeper dive sites. With the weather deteriorating, I hope we can find some more good days to dive this year though!IMG_1552IMG_1585IMG_1586IMG_1584IMG_1606

Diving the Helford

IMG_8454After the success of last weeks snorkelling session, it was high time for a proper dive! Again the Helford did not disappoint. In the end, my Sea hare stroking proved a bit inconclusive; also, my estimate of 30 cm long individuals might have been a slight exaggeration, 20-25 cm is more likely for the larger individuals. My guess is that it might be Aplysia punctata after all, and perhaps this is just a very good year where they reach their maximum size. (Note that three individuals can be seen in the first photo and two in the second photo.)IMG_1081IMG_1014This was not the only Ophistobranch activity going on, as I spotted a small nudibranch sitting on the eelgrass. Probably Eubranchus farrani, although it could well be something that is deserving of a new name, there is a lot of (cryptic) species discovery and taxonomic revision ongoing in nudibranch biology. I also spotted several largish egg masses on the eelgrass that are likely to be from a larger, shelled Ophistobranch; I am waiting for suggestions from various facebook groups *could be Haminoea navicula*. I found a beautiful Wooden canoe bubble shell Scaphander lignarius, these animals live buried in the sand so are not commonly spotted. Next time I’ll bring a small garden rake to see what is hidden below the sand (I am serious!), lots of echinoderms and molluscs to be sure. Pelican’s foot shells Aporrhais pespelecani live in sand, but I found some on top of the sand too, so full of muck that they were barely recognizable. I have found empty shells of this species washed up on holidays before, but it was cool to see them alive for the first time.IMG_1012IMG_1065IMG_1058No cuttlefish in sight this time, but loads of eggs so it is likely that this is an important breeding ground for this species. We encountered one Thornback ray Raya clavata, which, like cuttlefish, are not very shy. These species occur in very shallow waters (we probably did not dive deeper than 7 meter) and the influence of the surrounding woodland is clear, with decaying oak leaves and pine cones amidst the seaweeds and eelgrass.IMG_1083IMG_1085IMG_1032IMG_1031IMG_1039One very well-camouflaged species is the Scorpion spider crab Inachus dorsettensis. Medium-sized Common hermit crabs Pagurus bernhardus are common, running around in Turban top shells covered with hydroids. Although present in the last post, another pic of a Mud sagartia Sagartia troglodytes anemone Red speckled anemone Anthopleuris ballii. Filterfeeding worms are abundant too, including the beautiful¬† Fan worm Myxicola infundibulum as well as a large tube-dwelling worm and worms in white calcareous tubes with bright red bristles that I could not identify. As we got out of the water, we saw a Comb jelly Beroe cucumis, very pretty but hard to photograph. The next dive will have to wait two weeks or so, but then I hope to finally play around with my GoPro.IMG_1041IMG_1035IMG_1019IMG_1026IMG_1072IMG_1048IMG_1090