back in the water

It had been over two months since I last went snorkeling at my spot in Castle Beach. Although I did go on two boatdives (with no photos to show for), let’s say the work-life balance was tipped in the wrong direction. However I had time for a low-tide snorkel this Saturday and it was great to be back in the water, with a Curlew as my only companion. It was the plan to practise strobe photography but unfortunately I did not manage to get my settings right and I was going nowhere. As this is an activity that is supposed to be fun, I decided to ditch the strobe and stick with natural light. Fish I spotted were Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, two-spot gobies, tompot blennies, a fifteenspined stickleback, a dragonet and sand eels: It is pretty much the worst time in the year for seaweeds but the pools are still quite pretty. The first three photos give a general impression of the seaweeds, including Thong weed, Harpoon weed and Irish moss. After that: Codium spp,  Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticillata, a big plant of healthy-looking Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, withered Red rags Dilsea carnosa and Dulse Palmaria palmata growing on a kelp stipe. I called it quits after two hours. On my way back I noticed an abundant green algae species I had not seen before. David Fenwick identified it as actually being a cyanobacterium rather than a seaweed: Rivularia bullata, interesting! Hope to do a lot more snorkeling before it gets too cold…

Gilthead Seabream

Yesterday I went for a late morning snorkel; although the water looked inviting, the viz was disappointing. I did not see anything of interest until I noticed a Seabream (15-20 cm) hanging about, not a species I had seen before! It goes to show that there is no dive or snorkel session whithout something that makes it worthwhile. The fish was not very shy, but I did not have weight or fins so I could not get down to get a proper shot from the side. I found out that this was a Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata). This southern species seems to have become more frequent on the South coast of the UK the last few years, probably due to warming seas. It seems to be known among anglers, but less so among underwater observers (the NBN Atlas only has two records for this species in Cornwall). Other than that the usual Ballan- and Corkwing wrasse, Two-spot gobies, Pollack and even a Blenny (very commonly found under rocks while rockpooling but I hardly ever see them when snorkeling).

Good Viz

Wednesday had a good low tide, sun and no wind so I headed out for the water during my (long) lunch break. I was not disappointed with the viz, although the wireweed and thong weed shed tissue (conceptacles and/or epiphytic algae?) which immediately cloud the water so you have to ‘swim and shoot’ before the opportunity is gone. At this time of the year, the seaweed biomass is at its greatest, with lots of Harpoonweed, Wireweed, Sea lettuce, Bushy rainbow wrack and Thong weed but the biodiversity is lower, with many other species such as Discoid forkweed, False eyelash weed, Bonnemaisons Hookweed and Red grape weed gone or decaying. Below some general impressions (more photos from around the same time last year here and here): On the two photos above Bushy berry wreck Cystoseira baccata (along with Brown fan weed and Oyster thief). There are many big snakelocks anemones around and quite some fish, mainly shoals of juvenile pollack, Corkwing wrasse and Ballan wrasse, Two-spot gobies and, beyond the pools above the kelp forest, shoals of sand eels and sand smelt. The wind has picked up again so no more snorkelling in the coming days. I’d love to go for a dive again but my strobe malfunctioned and is back with the manufacturer for repair and so I might wait a bit going back into the water….

Falmouth Seaweeds October

To my regret I did not manage to take a look at the seaweeds at Castle Beach in September (it was my aim to go in at least once every month). Last Friday however, the sun was shining, the wind was gone and the tide was low (and I was able to escape work) so I at least could make October. Not only was the viz excellent, to my surprise, the seaweeds looked very healthy. It seems that there is a second, autumn seaweed bloom that I was not aware of. Some of the bleached corraline algae have regained their pink colour, the Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata increased in abundance and I saw species such as Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum growing again. The Bushy rainbow wrack has partly died back, forming dense, dark-brown mats (fourth photo) but also show fresh growth. This species is covered in many epiphytes such as Brown fan weed Dictyota dichotoma, and remnants of Bull huss mermaid’s purses still cling on. Interestingly, Wireweed Sargassum muticum has almost completely disappeared. It is tricky photographing rock pool seaweeds. One main issue is to not disturb any sediment, especially as I keep it *very* shallow, sometimes lying on my stomach (I definitely do not need fins). The other main issue with using a (wide angle) wetlens is that there are three glass surfaces in front of the lens collecting bubbles and so need regular wiping. Light is also a challenge: photographing against the sun causes glare, but having the sun in your back results in casting shadows over your subject. I continuously fiddle with the exposure correction, but it remains difficult with the white sand and pebbles around the seaweeds. Below, some healthy looking Solier’s string weed Soliera chordalis, two photos of an ‘unknown’, Norwegian fan weed Gymnogrongus crenulatus, Under-tongue weed Hypoglossum hypoglossoides, seaweeds starting to grow on a pebble, and a rock covered in a variety of seaweeds.

Falmouth Seaweeds July

Last week I went for a little swim at the usual spot at Castle Beach. The viz was nowhere near as good as last month, but still OK. There are schools of sand eels and sand smelt and I even saw an eel. The contrast between growing brown seaweeds and withering red seaweeds has become even greater. Below you see some yellowed Harpoonweed and a ‘forest’ of Thong weed covered in epiphytes. As the light was a bit subdued, I focused on the most shallow area. The bare parts of the rock are covered with barnacles, dog whelks, sting winkles and limpets. The seaweeds are mainly Serrated wrack Fucus serratus, Sea lettuce Ulva, Grape pip weed Mastocarpus stellatus, some Ceramium and Laver Palmaria palmata, as well as Dumont’s tubular weed Dumontia contorta.

Falmouth Seaweeds (and fish) June

I have been diving three times last week but due to internet problems have not posted about them. I hope to do that in the coming days, but first wanted to blog about this mornings snorkel session in the shallow rock pools at Castle Beach in Falmouth, as I experienced the best viz (visibility) ever here. Apart from the stunning viz, I was very lucky with the fish: I spotted a Tompot blenny, Two-spot Gobies, Fifteen-spined stickleback, Rock goby, Pollack, Ballan-, Corkwing- and Goldsinny Wrasse and Sand eels (above and below). However, I mainly wanted to check what the seaweeds looked like, and things have definitely changed over the last month (see here).The Wireweed Sargassum muticum and Spaghetti (or Thong) weed Himanthalia elongata are thriving and at low tide hang over the surface creating ‘tunnels’. The Harpoonweed below is in decline, turning from pink to yellow-white (and the Bonnemaisonia is almost completely gone). The fronds of the False eyelash weed have turned from juicy and red-brown to wiry and yellow and the corraline algae are turning white. The Sea lettuce Ulva has died back and is covered in speckles (sporangia?). Some epiphytes are thriving, the very fuzzy brown Pylaiella littoralis covers kelp, a Ceramium species grows as pompoms on the Spaghettiweed. One pink and fuzzy species that is growing well I should have taken a closer look at because I am not sure what it is now (I will enquire at the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook group). The next species I think I can identify: Chipolataweed Scytosiphon lomentaria. The Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia looks fuzzier and greyer than before. Although with less species and more subdued colours, the pools still look beautiful, and I hope the good visibility will last a bit longer!

Falmouth Seaweeds: End of April

A quick snorkel this Tuesday to check out my favourite rock pools at Castle Beach here in Falmouth. The tide was low, the water still and the sun was shining, creating beautiful shimmers of light. The Wireweed, Thong weed, Sea lettuce and also the Bushy rainbow wrack are in full swing, but most of the other species are in decline, with for instance the Harpoon weed and False Eyelash weed bleaching. Still, it is very pretty! The most common fish encountered so far this year have been Two-spot Gobies, with the occasional wrasse or dragonet. Now, loads of juvenile Pollack Pollachius pollachius have appeared (ID thanks to the excellent folk at the Seasearch Cornwall facebook page). The following photos are all variations on the same theme; I could not decide which ones were best so I just posted the whole lot: In the photo above you can make out some Snakelocks anemones on the right; compare with the last two photos of this post from six weeks ago to see how the same scene has changed. The stalked jellyfish seem to have largely disappeared along with the decline of seaweeds. However, you can still spot the odd interesting animal. The photo below is of the small gastropod Mangelia costata Haedropleura septangularis. Probably not very rare, but small (<15 mm) and well-hidden and so not that often seen:

Falmouth Seaweeds: Mid-April part II

Above an illustration of the decline of seaweeds: Juicy whorl weed Chylocladia verticillata all white and fuzzy (see for a more healthy looking plant this post from 2.5 months ago) on a bed of the common and pretty Discoid fork weed Polyides rotundus. There seem to be around 25 or so  (larger) species that are common in these pools. Many of them can be seen in the two photos below (including a stray Bladder wrack, a species that dominates the shore just a meter higher): Below, a whole bunch of individual species. First, Sea beech Delesseria sanguinea, which must have washed up from under the kelp beds (too bad I did not get the entire plant in frame…). Second, a photo of Ulva with Chipolata weed Scytosiphon lomentaria. Third, the brown Divided net weed Dictyota dichotoma. Fourth, Slender wart weed Gracilaria gracilis. Fifth, False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata; this plant has grown quite large and has turned from dark red/brown to a much lighter brown. Sixth, the Falkenbergia stage of Harpoon weed Asparagopsis armata (see the third photo) on the right. Seventh, Red grape weed Gastroclonium ovatum. Finally, two photos of my favourite species the blue Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia.

Falmouth Seaweeds: Early April

A whole bunch of photos from last Friday, starting out with the prettiest ones depicting a whole range of species, most strikingly the crimson Gracilaria and blue Cystoseira. I was so pleased with it I shared it on the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook page and Frances Bunker, one of the writers of the highly recommended Seasearch Guide to Seaweeds of Britain and Ireland, kindly uploaded a photo with all scientific names. This is a great idea and I should do the same for future posts (I have not done so yet as I am back home and did not bring the guide). As good as it is to be back in the Low Countries, I am missing out on being able to snorkel in some very good weather and likely better visibility than for the photos in this post. The rock pools have changed markedly since the last post a couple of weeks back, with hardly any patches left without seaweed growth. The colours have changed too, with much more of the green Ulva, and more brown (e.g. Calliblepharis) relative to reds. Some seaweeds seem to be in decline already (e.g. Gastroclonium) while some are more prominent (e.g. Palmaria). Below I have posted a range of photos, some are pretty good, others not so much, but they give a good impression of the diversity (most photos have at least ten species in them but I have not gone through the trouble of typing all the names): I have no clue what the brown, thin, frilly species is above. Below some individual species, first Dulse Palmaria palmata and Sea flax weed Stypocaulon scoparium. Not 100% sure about the next three: Dumontia, Lomentaria and either Laethisia or Colpomenia (I should know this…). Finally, some photos taken under the cover of Thongweed Himanthalia. More photos next week I hope!

Falmouth Seaweeds: January

img_8801As 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. img_8842img_8807img_8866Above, 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).img_8313 img_8294img_8852 img_9045img_8407img_7650img_8550img_8297The 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). img_9014img_9030img_9007