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.

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: 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!

Snorkelling at Silver Steps Part I

High time for a snorkel, and few better places in the area than ‘Silver Steps’, between Castle Beach and Pendennis Point in Falmouth. I took my little Lumix camera (goes up to 10 meters deep, no optical zoom) with me to take some sub-standard pics (all other photos on the blog are taken with my iPhone). This site is a mix of rocks covered in kelp and gravel and even the remains of two U-Boats (they are no longer recognisable as such though, see here for more specifics on these and other wrecks off Falmouth). There is always something to see: schools of Smelt chased by Sand eels, hovering Two-spotted gobies, Corkwing and Ballan wrasse, Spiny starfish and loads of seaweeds. In fact, there was so much to see that I have divided the pictures over two posts. First a photo of the site and some of the U-Boat wreckage:P1040041

P1040031We were in for a nice surprise: a good-sized John Dory Zeus faber at around seven meters depth. I have posted a very nice picture from my first and only dive in Cornwall courtesy of Charlotte Sams, but here a short, jittery video as well:

Anyway, a perhaps even nicer find were Leopard-spotted gobies Thorogobius ephippiatus. Some sources make it seem like this is a rare species only ever encountered by divers, but it is actually not uncommon and we saw them at two meters down (the tide was low though). It is a shy species that lives under ledges, burying between the rock and the gravel. The picture is crap but also proof I am not lying. The next picture is of a Tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine peeking from a crack in the rocks. Large snakelocks anemones are everywhere on the kelp, and although a month ago I saw none, many of them again housed commensal Leach’s spider crabs Inachus phalangium. (These anemones and crabs do well in the aquarium btw, see here.) It would be interesting to know if these crabs arrive from deeper waters or just grow up really fast.

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Cornish Coral

A couple of weeks back I went for a boat trip and snorkel over Maerl beds with friends on the other side of the Fal Estuary, just north of St. Mawes.  I did not post about it at the time, as my photographs were quite crap and I reckoned I could go back to try and come home with something better. However, there hasn’t been any time for that, nor will there be in the near future, and as it was such a cool experience I reckoned it would be nice to write a little post about it for now anyway. The beach was fringed with sea grass, but the Maerl beds started very near the coast, at around two meters depth at low tide. Maerl is something special; it must have taken early biologists a while to figure out whether it was mineral, animal or plant. It is actually a calcareous alga that (very slowly) grows in fist-sized nodules or thalli. The Fal and Helford estuaries are one of the few places in the country where it occurs, and the Maerl beds here are under threat of dredging. Although Falmouth has the third deepest natural harbour in the world, big cruise ships cannot land close to the town centre which makes it unattractive for ships to stop. Falmouth would be a very pretty last port of call sailing west and cruise ships are of course good for business, hence the dredging plans. I will save the debate on economy versus conservation for a future post, as it will require a lot more text. I was able to take some pictures of the Maerl with my old Canon Powershot in plastic housing before the new batteries decided to quit on me prematurely:IMG_3280As you can see the Maerl really looks more like a coral than a seaweed (and dead pieces of Maerl form a type of coral sand, see here and here). It provides an ideal structured habitat for all kinds of organisms to live in and on (for instance fine seaweeds and snakelocks anemones). Besides various fish, crabs and sponges and small things darting to safety in general, we saw a big hermit crab in a Buccinum undatum shell with the large anemone Calliactis parasitica on top. Very cool, and apparently not very commonly encountered (this was of course after my batteries had run out). What was striking as well, were the very large (one of them measured half a meter across), very fat and very pale Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis:IMG_3279Maerl with a sponge growing through it (or possibly the other way around):IMG_3276Maerl is protected, so not an option for the aquarium, although I am sure it would make for a fantastic looking display (moreover potentially a very stable display as Maerl is not seasonal but grows for centuries). Hopefully more and better pictures later this year!