Snorkel Adventures

The sun is shining (most days) and the water has warmed up, so ideal conditions for a bit of snorkeling. I have been out at my usual spot in Falmouth (rockpools and kelp forest) and my local beach in Flushing (seagrass) (and yes, I really count myself lucky every time that l live here!). The last couple of times I have brought my son along, as he is now old enough (nine). He is a nature freak just like his dad, actually probably more so! I need to get him fins and a weight belt soon, but he has been doing fine in the water already.

The photos above and below illustrate the state of the rock pools at the moment: quite brownish with the Sargassum and Himanthalia growing everywhere. The red, pink and purple species have largely disappeared (apart from Harpoon weed) and there is quite a bit of green Ulva growing. The water teems with juvenile pollack in the rock pools and schools of sand eels a bit further out. Diving over sandy patches, you can see the latter species shooting out of the sand en masse. It is crazy how such a silvery pelagic fish can also burrow in the sand. I guess it does take its toll, as there are quite some dead ones to be seen too.

The Flushing snorkel site is very different, no (deep) rockpools, only a little bit of kelp but with a very healthy patch of seagrass. No catsharks or thornback rays when we went in, just the odd small sea bass. There are many small Snakelocks anemones on the seagrass. I used to think that it was mostly the purple form that did this but I now noticed that most were the green variety, so the morphs do not seem to differ in this respect after all. One anemone had ‘caught’ a crystal jellyfish (an Aequorea medusa). Not sure if it was in the process of being digested or just ‘stuck’.

I have played around with my new INON strobe, which works a lot better than my old strobe. I have ordered a second one for Wide Angle photos too….(as you can see there is quite some backscatter in the pic of the Shore Crab above). I will need to get back to some shore diving to make optimal use of two strobes, as I am too lousy a freediver to get the lighting and exposure right in one breath!

Candelabrum cocksii

It was a nice day and a good low tide last Wednesday and so I decided to go for a snorkel; I was glad I did! Last year, I had been trying to take photos of this weird little animal, Candelabrum cocksii, but failed miserably, this time it worked (although it could be improved). It is a hydrozoan that was first described in Victorian times on the exact beach I always go snorkelling here in Falmouth. It is tiny (see last pic) and lives underneath rocks, so it goes mostly unnoticed (and therefore does not have a common name). To take this photo, I had to do some ‘underwater rockpooling, turning over a rock to find them. I am not sure what the deal is with these guys; I know the white bulbous structures at the bottom are reproductive structures, and the reddish bit at the top is for feeding (this bit can be stretched out quite a lot). It is colonial just like the Portuguese Man O’War. Please correct me if I am wrong hydrozoan experts! Shout out to David Fenwick and his ID site aphotomarine.com, which I highly recommend.

Other notable finds were stalked jellyfish Calvadosia cruxmelitensis and my very first Wentletrap (which is a Dutch word: wenteltrap=spiral staircase) Epitonium clathrus. As I had my macrolens on the camera I could not shoot any general impressions but the pools started to look beautiful again. The big Wireweed and Thing weed plants were all gone (new ones emerging) and the red seaweeds (Sphaerococcus, Plocamium, Chylocladia) were already quite big.

It was great to be back in the water today and it is my New Year’s resolution to spend a lot more time underwater than I did in 2021! Who knows I will even learn how to use strobes. A happy 2022 to all blog readers!

Crystal Jellies

Photography during my last snorkel was a bit frustrating as I could not get my strobes to work. Luckily I was saved by a subject that did not require any extra light: beautiful translucent crystal jellies slowly pulsating near the surface. Crystal jellyfish are not true jellyfish (these belong in the Class Scyphozoa), but hydromedusae (Class Hydrozoa) which have a polyp stage in their lifecycle that bud of these sexual medusae. They are difficult to identify to species level so I keep it to Aequorea sp. I saw a few, around 10 cm in diameter, and had fun diving under them and get them in front of the afternoon sun.

Back on St. Martins, Isles of Scilly.

Last week we visited St. Martin, one of the Isles of Scilly again, the first week we were allowed to do so. As a result, the islands were very quiet (and the pub was still closed, aargh!). It was sunny, but the easterlies were still cold and there was even a bit of frost some nights. However, I managed to get a snorkel in almost every day, which was great. I brought all my gear (again stepping on the boat wearing my weight belt…) but only used the strobes the first day; these are still an ongoing frustration of mine! I tried out most beaches, especially enjoying Porth Morran, where the kelp met the seagrass. (The pics in the Gallery are click-able btw.)

Some sites were dominated by kelp Laminaria digitata with Common Sea Urchins Echinus esculentus munching away. Fish life was very limited; I saw Ballan- and Corkwing Wrasse and Thicklipped Mullet but not much else.

Common Sea Urchin Echinus esculentus

Other sites were more ‘beachy’ with white sand, small rocks covered in Snakelocks Anemones and Seaweeds and Seagrass. The visibility looked very promising but was quite bad some days unfortunately (especially compared to our visit last September, see here). All in all a great time was had and we hope to visit again next year!

An Bollenessor is Back

It has been a wile since I last posted. This winter was long and dreary, the sea choppy and grey. I managed to do some rock pooling, and took a bunch of pictures, which I probably should have posted… The good news is that a mishap with my camera housing last year resulted in Olympus giving me a new model housing + a new model camera to fit (OMD EM1 mark 2) AND a new dome, lucky me! Regular readers of this blog know I get very excited in March, as this is when the seaweeds look at their best. This week the tides were low and the wind conditions favourable (the sun was not always out unfortunately), so I made sure to go in the water every day. The water is cold (9C), especially after being in for 2 hours, but it is all worth it. The seaweed growth was lush, with species literally growing on top of each other. I tried to shoot with strobes, but this proved too difficult and switched to natural light. Keeping ISO at 200, I aimed to lower shutter speed to 1/30, managing an F stop of between 5 and 8, depending on cloud cover. I now get the hang of that, but it is difficult to keep photos well-exposed, with enough depth of field and maintain sharpness. Below some examples. I am lazy and will not add seaweed names (but see the Seaweed Gallery page at the top if you are interested). When the tides are low again at the end of next week I hope to go out again!

Slender-beaded Coral Weed Jania rubens

Quick post about an hour worth of snorkelling on Wednesday. Very frustratingly, I had a housing mishap on Saturday, meaning my brandnew Olympus camera and lens got wet. $%&^”! as the saying goes…..I have sent both back for repair and hope all can be fixed relatively fast and cheap. A minor disaster but what can you do? Go out with my old Canon Powershot and wetlens instead I guess! The viz was not the greatest but I can only blame myself for a disappointing haul of photos. I took around 200 (as usual), whittled them down to 75 or so on my camera afterwards and then to 30 or so on my computer. Did some tweaking in ‘Photos’ afterwards but they were 5’s, 6’s and 7’s at most. The midshore pools were looking pretty. Lots of one of my favourite seaweed species Slender-beaded Coral Weed Jania rubens growing on top of (mostly) Hairy sandweed (and possibly Black scour weed). Lots of other epiphytic species grow on top of this assemblage, including Sea lettuce Ulva, Brown fan weed Dictyota dichotoma, Gelidium spp, Ceramium spp, Colpomenia OR Leathisia (I still am not sure of the difference..) and many others.

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).

May snorkelling

A quick post to keep the blog going. Seaweed season has passed me by a bit, first because of the bad weather and second, when the weather was better, because I did not have much time to go out. I went snorkelling only twice in May in my usual (shallow) spot at Castle Beach in Falmouth. On the 13th of May the plankton bloom was in full swing: a (wannabe) photographers nightmare! Generally, the seaweeds at this point were already a bit ‘over the hill’. I managed to get a nice shot of Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius though (above). I also glimpsed what I believe is Iridescent Drachiella Drachiella spectabilis under a rock overhang. The bright blue Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia contrasted very nciely with the deep red of the Red rags Dilsea carnosa, I hope to get a much better picture of that (probably next year…).By the next snorkel session the 19th, the visibility was much better. Some photos of the green seaweed Codium sp., A Gelidium sp. (pulchellum?) and a patch of Slender-beaded coral weed Jania rubens growing epiphytically on Hairy sponge weed Cladostephus spongiosus with the very common species Ulva and Oyster thief Colpomenia peregrina (and others). Next, Beautiful Fan weed Callophyllis laciniata and another Berry wart Cress Sphaerococcus coronopifolius. Finally, three shots giving a general impression of the seaweed growth and what I think is Chipolata weed Scytosiphon lomentaria as well as a snakelocks anemone inbetween yellowed False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. About the animals: there are some juvenile pollack around, as well as two-spot gobies. I saw a brown, flabby shape drifting through the water at one point and my first thought was that it was a seahare but it actually turned out to be a small clingfish (I could not get a photo unfortunately). There were quite some polychaete worms erratically swimming around in their reproductive ‘epitoke’ stage. The final photo shows one (with a Nassarius reticulatus in the background) which could be Perinereis cultifera.

First proper snorkel session of the year

GyllingvaseThis Thursday was only sunny, but also not windy, with a good low tide in the early afternoon, which meant I reserved a few hours to go to Tunnel/Castle/Gylly beach for some snorkelling. The photo above shows Gylly Beach, with the start of Swanpool lagoon behind it and the Lizard in the far distance. (I took this with my iPhone using a Hipstamatic filter; for more iPhone pics of Cornwall see cornwall_hipsta on instagram…). The water temperature was OK (9C?) but the viz was not as good as I hoped. The seaweeds are at their peak now and the pools looked very pretty. Not many fish, but I saw a small brown thing floating around which I first thought was Sea hare, but turned out to be a small (perhaps a Connemara) clingfish lazing about until it noticed me and bolted into the seaweeds. I carefully snorkelled in about half a meter of water, admiring the views and trying to take photos close-up (as the viz was not too good) with my wide angle wetlens. Below an above-water shot of some iridescent Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and the invasive red Bonnemaisonia hamifera (on the left). I need to go back studying photography basics. A main challenge is contrast. The pools have beautiful white sand, which result in hugely overexposed photos (or completely darkened subjects). I have come up with my own law, the Photography Frustration Index (PFI): the beauty of the subject (B) x the difficulty of capturing it (D). The PFI is very high in the case of seaweeds! Next: Bushy rainbow wrack under Thong weed, Purple claw weed Cystoclonium purpureum, Bushy berry wrack Cystoseira nodulosum covered with the epiphytes Asparagopsis (left) and Bonnemaisonia (right), Hairy sand weed Cladostephus spongiosus, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata (you can see they grow in the sand and must be used to scouring) a ‘bouquet’ of different species (with a snakelocks anemone) and a last photo of a variety of species, including the common False eyelash weed Calliblepharis jubata. The tides and weather conditions are unfavourable the coming days but I hope to go snorkeling again end of the week!IMG_9393

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.