Archive for 2008

Angry Octopus, and another marine life census

Friday, December 12th, 2008

From the Telegraph newspaper, comes this story about an octopus at a German aquarium, who’s bored and angry because it’s shut for Winter and there are no visitors. Apparently, he likes to juggle hermit crabs, rearranged the aquarium, and figured out how to short the lights with carefully aimed jets of water. A warning tale to aquarium owners everywhere- give your octopi plenty to keep them amused!  

Here’s another census/catalogue/portal of marine life. OBIS is the Ocean Biographic Information System and claims to be “a spatially and temporally interactive online archive for marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds data”. It takes contributions from researchers all over the world and is based at Duke University in the US.  

Encyclopedia of Life

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

The Encyclopedia of Life  is a fantastic, and very ambitious new website, which aims “to organize and make available via the Internet virtually all information about life present on Earth”. You can get involved by adding photos to their flickr group, or become a curator or contributor. I’d like to see more UK and marine-related partners contributing data (like the MCS for example), but it’s a great start!

Three varied easy access dive sites.

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

After a weekend of heavy swell pounding into the rocky gullies on the east coast which prevented any thoughts of diving, and this was July, Monday dawned bright and sunny , the swell was replaced by an almost smooth sea with in excess of 10 metres underwater visibility.
Nestends gully at Eyemouth must have the easiest access to the water of any dive from the shore anywhere in the UK. From the point of entry you immediately drop into a few metres of water amonst quite a dense healthy kelp forest with all the usual kelp forest inhabitants.
As the gully continues downward and the forest is left behind the floor is made up of large boulders, stones and sandy patches, again all supporting an abundance of marine life. The walls of the gully rising almost vertically towards the surface are covered with anemones and soft corals. Sea slugs, squat lobsters and crabs lurk in the many cracks and crevices and snake pipe fish and scorpion fish are usually quite common sights towards the mouth of the gully.
Across to west coast to Lochaline on the Sound of Mull. Another easy access walk in dive from the shore. A short swim down over the white sand with its numerous tube anemones and the occassional kelp covered rocky outcrops brings you to the top of the Lochaline wall. This is an almost vertical rock face with cracks, crevices and ledges, which plummets down to more than 100 metres deep.
There is a great diversity of marine life living on the wall, seaweeds, sponges, anemones and worms etc. Over the past three years members of the Group have recorded more than 100 different species of plants and animals. On this dive to a depth of 30 metres there seemed to be an abundance of fish including, leopard spotted gobies, corkwing wrasse, scorpion fish and dozens of juvenille cockoo wrasse.
Our list of recordings consists of the common and the more obvious plants and animals, a concentrated effort looking at sponges, hydroids and sea weeds etc. would at least double the numbers on our present list, and what about the life at the bottom of the wall?, that could be very interesting!
About 20 miles east brings us to Loch Creran, a favourite dive location with our Group for many years. There are a number of very good varied dive sites with easy access from the shore around the loch, but when the tides times are right Creagan Bridge Narrows is, I think, the outright favourite. Vey different to the dive at Lochaline wall, the narrows is only about 6 metres deep at low water, start the dive just before the end of the ebb, drift through the channel, as the tide turns at the end of the period of slack water you then drift slowly back to the point of entry. This is a very crisp and vibrant site where you can find many plants and animals that are associated with high energy locations.
These are three very easy access sites, suitable for novice diver and upwards, each with their own very special characteristics, there is always lots to see, in fact you often see something new every visit, so its always nice to return.

Coral and Sailfish

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

From NOAA and National Geographic this week- two fantastic sets of photos. The first is NOAA’s gallery of coral photos. There’s a lot of images here and the galleries are not that easy to navigate around but there are some beautiful pictures, including possibly my favourite: the orange fireworm. The second is from National Geographic, of Sailfish rounding up a school of sardines in the Gulf of Mexico. You can watch the poor sardines being picked off one at a time until none are left, but the sailfish are impressive looking predators too.

How many marine species are there?

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

Scientists around the globe are working hard to try and find out, MarineSpecies.org now have over 122 000 species, and estimate a total of 230 000. During their work, however, they have found that a lot of our ‘species’ are really only synonyms for the same organism. The leader in the synonym race is the breadcrumb sponge (Halichondria panicea). This is common on a range of substrates, and adopts a wide range of shapes and colours in different habitats – if you dive you’ve almost certainly seen it! Its predilection to changing its colour and shape have resulted in scientists giving it no less than 56 synonyms…

MarineSpecies.org is affiliated to the Census of Marine Life, which readers might also find interesting.

Drifting through the narrows (part 1)

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

One of the other dives over the weekend was a drift through the Creran narrows – there are some super photos taken by Lewis available on his website at:  Loch Creran photos June 2008 (Lewis will be giving us a talk on underwater digital photography later in the year – keep an eye on the diary for more information!)

More information about Loch Creran is available in a new guide published by the Argyll and Bute Council. To quote from their website “(the guide) describes and illustrates the amazing wildlife and natural habitats found in and around Loch Creran, its geological and historical background as well as a description of current commercial and leisure activities.” To find out more and download a copy of the guide: Loch Creran Guide (Thanks to Louise for this info).

Barry

Night dive with sea pens

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Photograph of a sea gooseberry

Our last dive weekend to Oban was a combination of good visibility and super dive sites, so thanks again to Gordon for organising this. I think the prize for most abundant squidgies over the weekend has to go to the cnidaria (jellyfish and related), and our encounters with them started on Friday evening, with a night dive on the sea pen bed at Galanach.

Phosphorescent sea pen

On entering the water we were surrounded by a drift of sea goosberies, the bands of cilia along their sides rainbowing in our torch beams. The sea pen bed starts quite sharply at about 20m depth, appearing out of the dark. We have to report that, rather disappointingly, we didn’t see any phosphorescence from the Pennatula phosphorea, but did see a large number of individuals of both this species and Virgularia mirabilis, including small (juvenile?) indiviuduals.

Pogge (Agonus cataphractus)

Jo spotted a pogge (Agonus cataphractus) probing the mud beneath the sea pens – which I was pleased to be able to identify immediatly, folowing Gordon’s talk on Roa Island the previous week!

Barry

Living Colour: Nudibranchs in close-up

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

This article in National Geographic comes with some stunning close up images of nudibranchs and even a video from the photographer. If this isn’t enough to convince people that sea-slugs are nothing like their garden counterparts then I don’t know what is!

Marine litter

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

The excellent BBC television news reports recently from Midway Island in the Pacific graphicllay outlined the problems and dangers to marine life caused by the massive amounts of plastic in the marine environment. it did however lead some people to believe that that is where all the rubbish in the sea ends up.
It would be very good if the BBC could run a similar series of reports around the coastline of the UK to coincide with the launch of the Beachwatch 2007 report on Thursday the 10th. April 2008.
This would show that unfortunately we have a similar amount of plastic waste in the seas around our shores and on our beaches as anywhere else in the world.
Surveys by volunteers has shown an increase in beach litter of almost 100% since 1994, over 50% of this is made up of plastic.
As well as the hazard caused to marine life and birds by ingestion and entanglement, beach litter costs thousands of pounds each year to clean up, do you want to sit on a dirty beach ?
It can create a major health hazard to people and spoils the beauty of some of our wonderful coasatal locations.
Look out on Thursday 10th April in the press and media when the Marine Conservation Society will launch Beachwatch report 2007, an extremely thought provoking overview of the massive marine
litter problem in our coastal waters.
If you would like to help combat the problem, why not join the Lancashire Area Group of the Marine Conservation Society on a litter survey on Sunday 27th April 2008 at Half Moon Bay, Heysham. Further details of this event are on the diary page of our website.

Lochaline, Easter 2008

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

This year did not promise the best, with a pretty dreadful weather forecast, and driving hail on the journey North. In the event, however, the North wind, while cold, gave us long cloud free periods, with small snow flurries in between, and raised few problems with the diving.

Lochaline offers some excellent, easily accessed, shore dives with a diverse range of habitats and marine life. The wall off the Hotel beach is a favorite with the group, as this offers a white sand beach access to one of the most impressive walls in the UK, dropping almost unbroken from about 15m to 80 or 90m depth.

Corphella browni

It is here that we did most of our diving over the Easter break, extending our surveys of previous years towards the mouth of the Loch. This encompassed a new beach, and boulder slope, and a number of additional species have been added to our list for the site, including the sea pen Virgularia mirabilis. The organisms on the wall are all currently getting into gear for the year ahead – top shells and sea slugs are grazing the Tubularia, and laying eggs in great coiled masses. Mermaids purses are to be found on anything that they can cling to!

Virgularia mirabilis

Our dive to the East of the fish farm at Fiunary was a bit more exposed, which caused a few problems leaving the water, but it offered a rather different habitat – a short boulder slope to 10m or so, followed by a fairly steeply sloping mud bottom. This area usually has a luxuriant kelp forest over the boulder slope, home to a wide range of organisms, including snakelocks anemones.

At this time of the year, however, the kelp has been thinned by the winter storms, but equally (or perhaps more importantly) it cannot keep up with grazing pressure over the winter months, as it gets eaten faster than it can grow! This makes hunting in the base of the kelp forest a lot easier, and Rob managed to find a sea mouse in between the boulders, while more sea pens (again Virgularia) were spotted in deeper water.

The final dive location was at Drimnin – this was by my request as my 200th dive. I have fond memories of Drimnin, with its simple access and sunlit shallows. In the event we were all a bit under-weight for the dive (which maxes out at about 6m), and for once the sun remained hidden behind high clouds, so the dive was a bit of a disappointment. Still, it is different again, an almost flat muddy bottom with occasional boulders in shallow water offering an excellent habitat for a range of weeds, fan worms and hermit crabs. Later in the year the area will have long trailing sea whips (Chorda filum – this plant has a host of other common names!), for the moment and spring arrives, it is dominated by smaller red algae and the green sea lettuce, while the boulders provide safe anchorages for large kelp plants – furbelows and sugar kelp.

Pennate diatoms

The group also fitted in a number of rock-pooling surveys close to our base at the Old Post Office walks, and a number of longer walks, including to the old castle and estate house at Ardtornish.

We took one plankton sample from the beach area. The first blooms of phytoplankton have not really got going yet, so this was a bit sterile, with just a few pennate diatoms. A wider range of diatoms was to be found epiphytic on some of the seaweed samples taken by the rock-poolers.