It has been three months since the last blog post so high time for an update. I have not been out much as the weather has been grim. In fact, the photos in this post are one year old! I bought a blue LED light for fluorescence photography which has been gaining popularity in recent years. Many organisms and fluoresce (i.e. absorb light and emit it at a longer wavelength), although the function of this is generally not well-understood (perhaps in some cases it might not even have a function and just be a byproduct). Coral reefs can especially be spectacularly fluorescent but the cold waters of the UK harbour a variety of fluorescent organisms too, most notably anemones and corals, see here for great marine fluorescence photos from Scotland by James Lynott. Anyway, I bought my light and a yellow barrier filter (which serves to let the emitted fluorescent light through but not the blue light) to be held in front of the camera housing, as well as a headset barrier filter from a very knowledgable German chap here; his site contains a lot useful information for those interested in the background and applications of this type of photography (see also here, here and here). The photography is very tricky: the ISO needs to be bumped up in the dark which results in a lot of noise. The dark also requires long shutterspeeds which results in shaky images. A large aperture for more light is best, but since the subjects are usually small this results in suboptimal depth of field. I have only been out twice last January, and only whilst rockpooling (I have not done a single nightdive or nightsnorkel in Cornwall and I am not overly tempted to do so!). The very shallow rockpools high up at Castle Beach in Falmouth reveal some fluorescent animals, including hermit crabs but I focused on anemones. Snakelocks are big and very fluorescent (the green ones, the grey variety is not, although it does emit red light via its symbionts) but not common high up the shore. Hardly visible normally due to their small size and inconspicous colours, red-speckled anemones, daisy anemones and gem anemones become apparent using a blue light (in fact, this method is use to study tiny coral recruits in the tropics). The top photo shows two green gem anemones Aulactinia verrucosa (with red and purple coralline algae in the background). The anemones are very small (2 cm max) and I used my CMC-1 wetlens on my Canon G16. The other two photos show Daisy anemones Cereus pedunculatus. I only later noticed the tiny anemone babies (this is a livebearing species). I hope when the rain and wind disappear and the evenings still start early to go out again and post some more photos. Also, I have bought both a new camera and a new aquarium so I have plenty more to post about!
I had a few rock pooling sessions recently to play with my new camera (and wide angle lens). The main one was a workshop with North coast-based Thomas Daguerre of Hydro Motion Media (facebook). I am just a beginning photographer and so learning the ropes from an experienced hand proved immensely valuable. The session started with going through some of the basics (white balance, focusing etc), after which we headed out to the rock pools to put some of the theory in practice. We headed down to Thomas’ stomping ground of south Fistral Beach (I visited once before). Although the timing was not the best tide-wise, it was a beautiful day. This was the first time I actually submerged myself in rock pools to take photo’s; of course, being able to look through your view finder is the only way to do it right. It is hard to not stir up sediment though and in some pools salinity gradients made for bad viz. I used Thomas’ G16 setup with video lights and a strobe on a tray (something like this; should have taken a picture of it) which was very difficult! As a result of all the experimentation I ended up with few blog-worthy photos, but this session made clear that trying to capture ‘rock pool scapes’ is what I would like to focus on, the variety of seaweed species, colours and shapes I find especially cool. I really need to try to go back to these pools and try to get better photo’s. I also will arrange a second session with Thomas later in the season to start learning how to post-process RAW files. What was very interesting to see is that the pools here teem with Giant gobies Gobius cobitis, a protected species in the UK. We saw two lying side by side in a crevice but they are shy and it was hard to get a good shot. Thomas has recently made an excellent series of short films highlighting various charismatic local marine species, and one of them features the Giant goby (see the Hydro Motion Media site for the other eleven films):
Last month we had a great holiday travelling from San Francisco to Seattle. Nature here is awe-inspiring for the average European; we saw snowcapped volcanoes, giant redwoods, dunes, beaches, mighty rivers and temperate rainforest. This is not the place for a travelogue, however, rock pools were of course checked and that is prime blog material! We had a bit of a happy-go-lucky approach to travelling and I had not checked tide times beforehand. Turns out that the tides on the Pacific West coast work very differently than those in Western Europe: instead of two almost equally low tides a day, there is a proper low tide and a not so low tide, how inconvenient! (This page has a good overview of tide types, including another type with only one low- and one high tide a day.) In the end I had two early mornings on the Oregon coast for rock pooling: Bob’s Creek Wayside south of Yachats (pic above) and Seal Rock north of Waldport (see map). (I actually prefer the more appropiate American term ‘tide pooling’ as of course there are also (freshwater) rock pools that do not experience tides.) The coast in most of Europe is so much more densely populated it is almost strange to see that vast stretches of pristine coastline with hardly any people around, brilliant. Also, the vast amounts of driftwood and logs is almost unseen in Europe, as thewhole continent is pretty much deforested (especially in the UK, my guess is only places like Norway could be comparable in that respect).Being at the Pacific Northwest tide pools made me feel like a kid in a sweetshop: I could not decide to stick with a beautiful find or try to move on to the next exciting thing. It seemed a bit useless to just start documenting all the different species in the short amount of time I had. Instead I mainly enjoyed just looking around, especially admiring the Green surf anemones Anthopleura xanthogrammica (above). I know this species mainly from the Coldwater Marine Aquarium Owner group on facebook which has many North American members. Although the diversity of animals and seaweeds in the South West of the UK is amazing, I must admit I am always a bit jealous of the critters in Pacific Northwest tanks! The Green surf anemones are not only strikingly coloured and large, but also incredibly common, along with the Aggregating anemone Anthopleura elegantissima forming dense carpets on the rocks, inhabiting gulleys low on the shore to tide pools quite high on the shore.
I had taken the plunge and ordered a new camera for this holiday, a Canon G16 with a Fantasea underwater housing (see this post). However, I did feel comfortable with it in its bulky housing yet and so reverted to the more basic Canon powershot D30 and my iPhone for these sessions instead. I saw a couple of the large nudibranchs Hermissenda crassicornis as well as a Janolus fuscus, very pretty. Also below a Lined (or striped) shore crab Pachygrapsus crassipes and an unidentified prawn. Otherwise, most of the photo’s turned out to be not that great; I was just too hasty!Although all species were different (except for the Plumose anemones Metridium senile I saw on some pontoons), it was interesting to see the parallels with Cornish rock pools. For instance, all seaweed colours, shapes and textures I knew from home were present here, just in different combinations in each species. There were noticeable differences too. For one, many of the American organisms (chitons, isopods, anemones) are much bigger. The rocks were almost completely covered in barnacles and mussels (again both huge). Seagrass (Phyllospadix) was growing from the rocks!
Two mornings of rock pooling in a three week holiday was not enough, but all that was manageable unfortunately. We however also visited the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport on the single rainy day we had and that was pretty good. I am not a big fan of the generic aquarium displays (sharktunnels, ‘nemo’s’, scary Moray eels etc) so it was nice to see mainly coldwater aquaria, especially the nanoaquariums that housed a jumble of sponges, anemones, barnacles, chitons and strange fish, such as one of my favourites, the Grunt sculpin Rhamphocottus richardsonii which camouflages as a giant barnacle (first photo, see also here). A touch pool contained sea cucumbers, huge abalones and the largest chiton species in the world, the Giant Pacific (or Gumboot) chiton Cryptochiton stelleri, humongous! I hope one day to be back in this beautiful part of the world.
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!
It was a very nice day this Saturday, and the plan was to collect more seaweed species for a student project that I am supervising (see for an introduction my work blog here and for project updates student Abi’s blog). We were very lucky to have David Fenwick Snr and his partner Carol of aphotomarine fame to help us to find and identify species (you might also know him through a variety of UK marine facebook groups). We took to the rocks beneath the Jubilee Pool in Penzance (the end of the Cornish main train line and both the most Southern en the most Western station in England). As the focus was to get new species for Abi’s project, I did not focus on photography or finding other species so I have only a few pictures to show. One exception of course was that we had to see some stalked jellyfish; this is one of the specialties of David and he has dedicated an entire website to these beautiful creatures: stauromedusaeUK. These little animals are related to jellyfish but are attached on rocks and seaweeds on the shore. Ten species have been recorded in the UK. One of the more common ones is the Spotted kaleidoscope jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus; although a crappy iPhone photo, the stalk, arms with secondary tentacles at the end, white nematocyst spots and gonadal sacs are clearly visible:On to the seaweeds: about 15 new samples were collected. A species we did not take was Creephorn Chondracanthus acicularis, which according to Davis memory was last recorded in Penzance in the 1880s (first pic). We did collect a good amount of the epiphyte Champia parvula (second pic). Unfortunately no time to pick up some Wakame from nearby Newlyn marina or go to a spot with some good Prasiola growth but all in all a very successful and enjoyable trip!
I usually head down straight to the lowest reaches of the shore when rock pooling, but when there is a neap tide and a lot of inshore wind as there was this weekend, you have to make do with turning rocks higher up the shore. Although biodiversity is lower, there are some species that are only found there (see for instance this recent post) and so it is actually nice to have a look there for a change. The very first rock turned over actually had a couple of interesting inhabitants underneath it. Another lifer, the tiny gastropod mollusc Onoba semicostata (surrounded by a couple of even tinier Rissoa parva), very quickly identified by members from the British Marine Mollusca facebook group:
The same rock had a number of the tiny (< 1 cm) Cushion star species Asterina phylactica on it as well. It is prettier than the common Cushion star Asterina gibbosa (one of my favourite aquarium species), but perhaps a bit too small to be an option for the tank.
One other beautiful species, the colonial tunicate Botryllus schlosseri, this is a nice blue/purple one:
We went for a stroll last weekend in between showers: starting from Maenporth beach, following the coastal path south (direction Lizard). We discovered a nice, rocky beach with an abundance of rock pools. Not that much time to explore, but the pools seemed different from those on Castle Beach: filled with sand and with much more bare rock (probably because of scouring).
Pestleweed Gigartina pestillata (not entirely sure but a species tolerant to sand cover so that fits) was common. I found a small (5 mm) jade-coloured egg mass on this seaweed that I could snap using my iPhone olloclip macrolens. According to the SeaSearch Identifications facebook group,
probably from the Green leaf worm Eulalia viridis. from the snail Lacuna vincta.
Last weekend I went to my local beach in Flushing for the last time this year. Although it was stormy and cold it was nice to have a little wander around. Loads of washed up seaweed mixed with fallen Oak leaves on the beach:
Some of the new kelp has settled on pebbles instead of on more solid rock and so were also washed ashore. Easy for ‘planting’ in the aquarium although these species grow a bit to big to fit in my tank:
The slate around here is full of worms, some impressive burrowing! I have no idea what type of annelid this is; definitely worth to try to take some macro photos of in the new year:
This weekend I stopped by Castle Beach in Falmouth to release some of my Snakelocks anemones (more about the aquarium in a next post…). Although the weather was bad, of course that did not prevent me from turning over some rocks. My curiosity was rewarded with another new find: a Hairy crab Pilumnus hirtellus. A beautiful little crab which is not uncommon but here it definitely is not as ubiquitous as the Furrowed and Edible crabs:
I also found a Furrowed crab Xantho incisus with unusual coloration (perhaps because it had moulted but I did not check):
Another ‘lifer’ yesterday: a Sea gherkin Pawsonia saxicola, at Castle Beach in Falmouth. It is a small sea cucumber (a relative of the Cushion star next to it); a very cool find indeed!
The main aim though was to collect more snails to help out in the grazing project. This was pretty easy of course. I collected a couple more Painted top shells Calliostoma zizyphinum and many, mainly juvenile, Grey top shells Gibbula umbilicalis. I also picked up a beautiful small Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis; this fellow will go after the snails but as long as the predation is not too severe that will be OK, let’s see. Finally, using my little aquarium net, I went after some fish high up the shore and caught a tiny Two-spotted goby Gobiusculus flavescens. I need to catch a bunch more of those, hope to post about that soon