July Seaweeds at Castle Beach

A whole bunch of photos of yesterdays snorkel at Castle Beach. The viz has cleared up, although nothing like the fabled June 2017 viz, will it ever be as good again?! (see here). There are lots of yellows and browns, some greens, a substantial dash of blue of the rainbow wrack but hardly any reds and purples at this time of year. The glow of the sun exarcerbates the yellowish vibe, but somehow I suspect the colour temperature of the Olympus somehow is a bit off compared to my old Canon. I am not entirely sure about this though, and in theory this is all correctable postprocessing, I just don’t know how!  The photo below shows some of the common species, from the bottom right to top left: Cladostephus spongiosus, Dictyota dichotoma, Asparagopsis armata, Cystoseria baccata with Sargassum muticum in the background. Ij the second photo it is obvious that the Wireweed and Rainbow wrack are quite dominant, same for the Hairy sandweed Cladostephus spongiosus. The Thong (or Spaghetti) weed is covered in fuzzy epiphytes. I will keep practicing for when the reds and purples come back in autumn!

Macro Shenanigans

I had my first two outings trying the the mzuiko 66mm macrolens with strobe this week. I managed to make some OK pics more due to luck than wisdom! It is actually not that difficult to find interesting subjects, but getting finding them back in the zoom finder is quite tricky (I usually point at a subject with my finger and then try to find a big white blob back when looking at my camera, then hoping to encounter the animal somehwre nearby). I managed to find a Least chink shell Lacuna parva spent on a Rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia plant and spent 30 minutes looking at it.  Although there is not much definition on this tiny (5mm) all-white organism, the blue background looks great. I will definitely go back to specifically look for (slightly bigger) things on Rainbow wrack! (The iridescence of this seaweed means that if the (strobe)light hits it at a different angle it is a dull brown rather than a deep blue or purple.) To give an idea of how tiny some things are see the photo above of the shell-less mollusc Runcina coronata (this is an ophistobranch, it does not have gills on its back as do nudibranchs), it was really, really tiny! This photo is nice for ID purposes but I do not expect I can take good photos of species this small (you reallly need an additional macro wetlens for that). I only later noticed the even smaller mollusc Flat skenea Skeneopsis planorbis next to it. (I identified this species using the excellent new Essential Guide to Rockpooling by Julie Hatcher and Steve Trewhella by the way, highly recommended!). I also noticed I need to clean my finger nails! (More tiny molluscs were present, including Eatonina fulgida.) Next, the mollusc Tritia reticulata (which I knew under the names Nassarius reticulatus or Hinia reticulata….) or Netted dog whelk in common parlance. These are very active and fun animals. The macrolens really brings out how battered and overgrown the shell is and the beady little eyes also stand out. A little hermit crab posed nicely as well. Another difficulty is working the strobe. Unlike the ‘normal’ ambient light photography I am used to, the image after clicking is different from that seen through the viewfinder so it is trial by error. Often the subject is not properly exposed. Also, floating particles cause backscatter. Perhaps I should try a snoot to minimise this effect, which can ruin an otherwise decent (in focus) photo, like this one of a Stalked jellyfish Haliclystus octoradiatus which are common at the moment. (Notice the tiny molluscs on the seaweed in the background.)Finally some random pics: a Light bulb seasquirt Clavelina lepadiformis, two colonial seasquirts (a Morchellium argus and a Didemnid species) and a Bryozoan (it is late and I have not looked up the species). A whole new world opens up if you look at the tiniest denizens of rock pools, all complex, colourful and fascinating!

Olympus seaweed shots

Last weekend it was THE BEST weekend in the year for seaweeds here in Falmouth: the short window where most species peak (just before the bluebells are flowering on land), with a low tide, flat seas and sun. Unfortunately I was still waiting for my my new camera to come back from repair, which was very frustrating…. I took some pics with the Canon Powershot instead, but they are not really worth posting. I finally got my camera back last Tuesday: no damage to the lens but some replaced camera parts; with a bill under £150 it could have been a whole lot worse. As soon as I received the camera, I drove to Castle Beach and went for a 2.5 hour snorkel. The weather was not great, and the viz was neither. I took my strobe but that ended up in a big scatterfest so I quickly proceeded without it. First some general impressions of the rock pools with lots of Sargassum, Jania and Ulva. I also noticed quite a bit of Desmarestia ligulata (3d pic down):

I went fully Manual, varying ISO, shutterspeed and aperture which went surprisingly smoothly. The bad visibility and overcast skies however made it tricky to get good results and most photos were underexposed (of course still with some blown highlights). Also, I noticed the 8mm fisheye results in quite a bit of distorsion around the edges, more so than the wetlens I am used too even, which is slightly disappointing (but partially solvable by cropping). I tried a quick over-under shot which will I will practice more using a strobe (as the above water part is much brighter), but the main challenge will be to find a background that is more interesting than a bit of rock! Having a camera+ lens in a housing rather than a wetlens stuck on a housing is a huge improvement but I stilll have issues with having lots of bubbles on the dome. The seaweeds are happy at the moment and photosynthesising lots. The pic below of Harpoonweed Asparagopsis armata shows all the oxygen bubbles on the plant. Next, two photos of False eyelashweed Calliblepharis jubata and of Beautiful fan weed Callophyllis laciniata (I think!). Finally some animals. I discovered a small (3 inch or so) and exquisetly camouflaged Longspined scorpionfish Taurulus bubalis under the Thong weed, can you spot it? This is a shot that really needed a strobe but alas….Snakelocks anemones Anemonia viridis are common here. Again this pic is a bit underexposed and the vibrant colours do not come out but it shows the beautiful shape of this animal at least. What I need to do the coming months is too practice (especially with the strobe) so I will be well-prepared for the second seaweed season in autumn! (See the ‘2017 Falmouth Seaweed’ tag at the bottom of the webpage for posts showing how seaweed species wax and wane over the year.)

Some more seaweeds

Last Friday I went for another very shallow dip at Castle Beach in Falmouth. Even though the weather was pretty abysmal, it was definitely worth it! Here a small selection of photos, again the quality is not top notch but many pretty species to see. The first pic below shows the Hairy sandweed Cladostephus spongiosus remnants the Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens featured in the last post tend to attach to. After that, some Chylocladia verticillata, Dumontia contorta with Grateloupia turutura (past its prime) in the background, Heterosiphonia plumosa under a small overhang, a thin red (Rhodophyllis irvineorum? awaiting comments on the Seaweeds of the NE Atlantic facebook group) and finally Chondrus crispus and Dictyota dichotoma.

first snorkel with the Olympus

Yesterday I finally took my new camera underwater! I should have gone a bit sooner, but too be fair the water has not been looking very clear (and the viz was still not ideal). The sun was shining and it was great to be back in the water (perhaps 12C, not too cold with a wetsuit). It should be a great experience to shoot with a new, better camera, but it ended up being a bit of a frustrating experience not finding the right settings (I know, first-world problems!). I was stuck in Aperture Priority mode, which was a problem with significant wave action and the need for a fast shutterspeed. Although I took close to 200 photo’s, only a handful were halfway decent. Still, I learned a lot for next time. I took the 8mm fish-eye lens which allows you to get very close to the subject (especially useful for water that is not crystal clear) and still get a wide angle view. Above, a photo of an estuary sponge and seaweeds as well as Snell’s window. Below a badly composed shot of seaweeds, a downward shot of Furcellaria lumbricalis seaweed and Bushy rainbow wrack with Spaghetti weed in the background. All not very sharp and with flat colours, and hopefully standing in stark contrast to the next batch of photo’s!

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.