MCZ update

The MCZ project has now got twitter, Facebook and tumblr pages!
If you’re on any of these please do support the project and give us a follow or like.

https://www.facebook.com/MarineConservationZoneProject

https://twitter.com/MCZproject

http://mcz-project.tumblr.com

 

I’ve recently been on my first shoot for the project, which was a seasearch survey dive in Mounts bay. There’s now a blog post on the new tumblr page with more information and images from this shoot, but here’s a couple of images as a bit of a taster…

_DSC2311 (St Michael’s Mount, Penzance, this was the topside view of our dive site)

_DSC2351(Female cuckoo wrasse, and spiny starfish in the bottom of the frame too)

 

Thanks to everyone for all the support for the project so far, I really do appreciate it!

 

 

 

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My Marine Conservation Zone project – an introduction

So this is it! I’ve been awarded a bursary to achieve my goal of bringing awareness of the MCZs to as many people as possible, and to highlight our incredible, and underestimated, marine life in the UK. (Big thanks to The Photographic Angle in conjunction with the Royal Photographic Society for funding this).
I’m just going to try and briefly introduce the project now; it will develop and evolve along the way, but the main aims will be the same throughout.

 

Firstly, for the benefit of those who do not know much about this subject, the MCZs. (marine conservation zones)
Our oceans globally are in a critical state. In the UK we have some of the most fantastic coastline and marine life, and there is next to no protection for it.

“0.000001 – one hundred thousandth – is a number so small that to most people it seems like nothing at all. Yet four and a half years since the Marine Act of 2009 came into force – legislation that was heralded as the saviour of UK seas – this is the sum total of UK waters that is protected from all fishing for the purpose of nature conservation.”

Callum Roberts, The Guardian online.

 

In late 2012, we saw a number of 127 zones put forward to be considered for this conservation zone status, which essentially means they are protected from fishing and damaging activities, thus allowing the life to grow as much as possible without human disturbance. The life within these zones is considered to be of significance in either threatened habitats or species.

Out of these zones, DEFRA approved 27. And now, 37 have been put forward for consideration and an answer in 2015. So this is current news and something that is happening around us now. The third and final tranche of zones will be finalised in 2016. I’d love to stick this project out til the end, but we’ll see what happens!

As a diver, underwater photographer, and a general ocean lover, I have not been able to comprehend why this subject has picked up so little press and exposure. Therefore, I am endeavouring to do as much as possible myself. (I don’t think I’m exaggerating here, I’m basing this judgement on my own conversations with numerous people who don’t even know what the MCZs are).

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

Dr Seuss, The Lorax. (This is one of my favourites quotes I’ve ever heard, but it so relevant to any kind of conservation story, I’ve found it’s a good mantra to have when things get challenging).

 

We HAVE to care because the oceans are not just a pretty landscape, they are so much a part of our lives and we barely even know it. You may be thinking that you live in a landlocked area of the country, so this doesn’t apply to you, but we all need to care for our country’s coastline and oceans, or at least be aware of what’s actually there! The sea gives us so much more than we realise, it is a powerful energy that many people have an affinity with, many of us live and work around it, and the rest of us are a part of it from the fish that we harvest for our own consumption and for trade.

DSC_6784-1Facelina auriculata nudibranch, taken last year within the tranche 2 ‘Newquay and the Gannel’ zone area.

 

So that’s the cause, but the basic aims of the project are:

  •  to bring awareness and appreciation to British marine life
  •  to document approved MCZ sites; their environment and key species.
  •  to document proposed sites, habitats, and key species
  •  to also interact with those who would be affected by the zones (fishermen etc), and discover their thoughts.
  •  to use social media & an exhibition to promote protection, or at least education about marine wildlife around the British shores.

 

It’s a big task to take on, the biggest project I’ve undertaken, considering underwater photography is already a challenge and I’m committing to documenting a huge number of sites across the UK which I’ve never dived before and I’ll admit I’m a little nervous as well as excited.. But I feel strongly enough about the cause and am far too determined not to complete this to the best of my ability!

DSC_4361Pink sea fans, Eunicella verrucosa, a key species surveyerors are looking for within the propsed zones.

 

I also have a couple of favours to ask all viewers of this post…

I’m going to need a lot of help for this project. I plan on diving as many sites within the approved and proposed zones as possible, but for those sites further from my home in Cornwall, I will be needing advice about the local area, dive buddies, and other general information regarding sites and MCZs.

So please if you would like to help; if you live near a zone and would be able to show me around the site, if you know about your local marine life, have dived any of the MCZs, work in a dive centre, or a wildlife trust, or know someone else who may be able to help in some way, get in touch, I’d be really grateful! Contact details can be found via my website. Or if you simply have some thoughts or advice on the MCZ project then I’d love to hear that too.

I know a lot of people wonder how they can help conservation causes without donating money or directly campaigning, but simply talking about it and bringing awareness to as many people as possible is one of the best things you can do; education and conservation are inextricably linked.

I’ll probably be setting up a designated twitter and facebook page for this project, or may just take over my own pages with it instead, and could do with as much as exposure as possible, so simply tweeting, sharing, and liking will be doing a great favour to the project too!

 

I could talk about this subject for hours and pages, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Watch this space for more project development!

 

Good links for those who would like to read more about the MCZs:

http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/mcz – great interactive map showing existing and proposed zones with detail on each location.

 http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/news/2014/02/24/37-marine-conservation-zones-be-considered-consultation-2015 – list of second tranche zones under consideration for 2015.

https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/protecting-and-sustainably-using-the-marine-environment/supporting-pages/marine-protected-areas – more information about what the MCZs entail.

 

 

 

Continuing this marine theme

Here’s some discoveries from the latest dive at the same site as the previous post, including 2 more species of nudibranch and a sea slug that I had requested a sighting of earlier in the week – what are the chances! I was definitely feeling very happy and privileged after this dive.

The first creature I saw actually provided some of the best shots, a new nudibranch for me, Polycera quadrilineata. These two shots vary to focus on the rhinophores, and then the branches upon it’s back. This was a little larger than most of the other nudibranchs sighted, probably around 3cm long, but the 105mm macro lens works wonderfully for highlighting this minute detail. This beautiful animal was fairly shallow and close to the shore, its amazing to think we have these creatures so close to home. 

_DSC9472 _DSC9469

This nudibranch I believe is the same one featured in the last post, on a much smaller scale, as I’d estimate this one was just around 5mm long! I mistakenly intentifieded this nudibranch as a juvenile of a different species, but it was pointed out to me that the species is Ancula gibbosa, another new one for me. I particualrly like the green colours in the background. This nudi was actually floating around for a bit midwater until I took this shot, and as you can see it’s just about hanging onto the tendril of seaweed. _DSC9483

More sea hares! There was an area of about 1m squared which had a few within it, but unfortuntaley they all kept hiding behind this sea lettuce and weren’t the best photographic subject. However, I did manage to see one which was really tiny, as small as the nudibranchs, which was pretty cool. The one below I think was about 2cm long. _DSC9485

Another new species for me! Favorinus branchialis, a very prettily shaped nudibranch. We saw a few of these scattered around the site throughout the dive, but this was the best subject as was a little larger and on some more open seaweed. Though not as colourful as some, I like these types of nudibranchs with the cerata upon their backs. Other British species can look very similar to this shape but much brighter colours as well. _DSC9494

We also came across a Red Gurnard on the seabed, they actually almost crawl and feel they way along the sea floor, but generally are pretty static fish. This was no exception so I decided to take a few images to highlight the detail of it’s scales and the pattern near it’s mouth. These images haven’t had any lighting adjustments, and the fish are actually this fantastic bright red/orange colour, which, incidentally contrasts quite nicely against their blue eyes. _DSC9503 _DSC9499

I was swimming over some kelp and this thing causght my eye. It looked like a hydroid of sorts but was something I’d never seen at this dive site so swam down for  closer look. It was between lots of roots of kelp and I had fun trying to see through the seaweed fronds but this ‘thing’ really interested me, because it had started to move of its own accord, kind of like contracting each tentacle/branch slowly. So, I took a few images of it, in the hope of identifying it later. Later, I discovered it was a burrowing sea cucumber, Neothyonidium magnum, which was not what I expected, but very cool! I was battling with my surroundings and not getting the strobe arms tangled too much at this point so didn’t take many images but here’s one-

_DSC9534

And this next find was quite special. When reading an ID book a few days ago I came across the green sea slug, Elysia viridis. Despite having a fairly conventional form, I thought I’d would be awesome to see because it has iridescent spots along it’s body. On our way inwards from the dive I saw this slug upon some kelp, another tiny creature, about 2cm long. I took one shot, but before I could take another it let go of the kelp and started floating, not even free swimming, in the water. This resulted in me floating upside down for a few minutes, trying to circle this little slug that was gently moving around, and trying to focus on it with the camera too. I was very happy when I imported my images that I succeeded in taking some in focus! Also, in this instance I think the particles in the water work against the back background, and they look slightly like snowflakes. Though arguably, some people would have probably preferred I cloned them all out, I generally like to stick to as minimal editing as possible.

_DSC9554_DSC9556

(I know it’s called a green sea slug and this one isn’t totally green, but the colour can vary and I’m pretty sure I’ve identified it correctly)

One parting shot. In the shallows, just as I was beginning to get myself out the water, my buddy waved me over to the rocks nearby. I turned my camera and strobes back on, and there about 2m deep (if that), right next to the shore, was Montagu’s blenny Coryphoblennius galerita, camouflaged on the rock. Most blenny’s have two little branched tentacles coming of their head, but this one only has one, similar to a crest. And, not to anthropomorphise, but the face on shot does make it look like it’s smiling.

monatgus

Isn’t the ocean awesome!?

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More amazing marine life

A quick bit of backstory… Before the last dive/shoot that I posted about, I had been (repeatedly) saying how I was requesting sightings of nudibranchs, sea hares and stalked jellyfish, purely because these are all quite awesome species in my opinion. If you read the previous post, you’ll see that we didn’t see any of these on my ‘wish list’, which was understandable, I thought it would be quite unusual to see them all in one dive, and still had fun anyway. So this dive, I wasn’t expecting any of those above species, just the more common sightings of wrasse and crabs etc.

_DSC0734

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Therefore, after being underwater for about 5 minutes, when my dive buddy pointed out a nudibranch to me I was very excited. Especially because it was so big (for a nudibranch)! It was positioned in a particularly awkward place, meaning taking good photos was hard, and I’m aware this isn’t the greatest shot but I’m only using it for reference/ID here. This species is a sea lemon, Archidoris pseudoargus, and was about 3 inches long. 

_DSC07281We floated on a little further, and then happened across another nudibranch! More excitement! This one was much much smaller, about 2/3 cm long. It’s not the most creative image, but from it the species was identified as Acanthodoris pilosa. There were a few of these around at other spots, all very tiny and awkwardly positioned, but lovely to see so many. 

_DSC0827

Next came a pair of tompot blennies, hiding down a crevice between some rocks. (I know there’s only one in this photo but the other one is hiding just out of sight) These are a common fish to see, especially in this kind of habitat as they tend to like hiding out between rocks like this.

_DSC0821

When diving you tend to swim really slowly, and when I have a macro lens I naturally slow down even more because of the nature of the photography, and after the sightings of nudibranch previously I had my eyes geared up. So managed to spot a third species of nudibranch! Even smaller than the last ones there was a group of 3 or so, ranging from just under 1 cm to just under 2 cm (I think), which is the one I have images of here. Much prettier than the two previous species, this is Limacia clavigera, an orange-clubbed nudibranch. 

_DSC0829

_DSC0847

After the nudibranch crawled away to spot where I couldn’t photograph it, we swam on, and out of the kelp alongside appears a sea hare! (Aplysia punctata) A smaller one than I’ve seen before, I guessed it was about 1.5 inches, and once illuminated properly by the strobes, the colour against the kelp was fantastic. This was the best subject to work with, being in an accessible place, and so I spent more time with it than anything else, allowing me the opportunity to try out some different techniques, and get a number of shots I was happy with.

_DSC0791 _DSC0774

And if you were wondering…”These animals have been called ‘Sea Hares’ since classical times because of their resemblance – at least in European species – to a sitting hare.”

_DSC0770 _DSC0759

By this point, I was extremely happy with all our sightings, though beginning to get more than a little uncomfortably cold. (70minute dive in 10 degrees water & a wetsuit – divers will be able to relate!) We turned back and after a few more minutes, my buddy waved me over, and what do you know.. there was a stalked jellyfish! (Lucernariopsis campunulata) It was getting a little ridiculous at this point, I honestly barely expected to see one of the species from my wish-list, let alone all 3 of them! I only managed a few shots of the stalked jellyfish before cold took over and I was struggling to work the camera, but here it is. Doesn’t look your typical jellyfish right…arguably almost like a minute squid in appearance. These creatures are about 1 inch long and act like an upside down jellyfish, attaching to kelp and seaweeds, and then having it’s tentacles facing upwards.

_DSC0873 _DSC08711

Also, massive thanks to Matthew Thurlow for being my buddy on this dive and spotting some really cool creatures! I know this post has been more anecdotal than usual, but I just wanted to share my excitement for the whole dive rather than talking about the images as much. My next post shall be different. I plan on visiting this site again for another dive later this week, so fingers crossed for some more amazing marine life.

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April cornish marine life

So this is the first Cornish dive I’ve had this year, due to the storms creating little to none visibility up til recently. And the cold water was a bit of a shock at first, but I was determined to stick it out and get back into the swing of underwater photography.

Just a local shore dive out of Falmouth, the site often provides us with sights of dogfish and  rays, fairly large species that we surprisingly saw nothing of this dive. Nonetheless there is always something interesting to see underwater, so I had plenty of subjects to practice my photography on.

There are hundreds of anemones around this area, of varying species too, and their colours are absolutely amazing! The variation between them and the bright colours & patterns are really lovely; you could quite easily spend a whole dive focusing on photographing anemones.

I never do these triptych things, but in this instance it helps show a few different images all together, and you can see what I mean about the colours! These species are Dahlia anemones, Urticina felina.

Untitled-1

Painted topshells, Calliostoma zizyphinum, are often found washed up on beaches. They range a lot in colouration, and why I chose to include this shot was the fact that the foot is particularly visible and actually kind of matches the shell here. As you can see from the shot this one was clinging onto a piece of kelp, which is very common to see underwater. _DSC0664Along with sightings of a few shore crabs, an edible crab, and a very angry velvet swimming crab, we also happened across this spider crab, Maja squinado, who appeared to be feeding on something, it wasn’t clear what. The first shot here illustrates the fact that it’s feeding on something, and the second image I wanted to highlight the body of the crab more than anything, focusing on the leg here. Similar to decorator crabs, they have life actually growing and living upon them, you can see the flecks of sponges in these shots.

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_DSC0660

Next is this snake pipefish, Entelurus aequoreus. I actually came across a juvenile of these in a rock pool the other day, and was confused for a while on the species as it’s visually quite different to the greater pipefish we often see around these parts, being much smoother and, unsurprisingly, snake-like. This first image shows how I very almost swam right past it, due to the camouflage within this particular seaweed. Spot the pipefish! The second shot simply shows what amazing and beautiful eyes they have.

_DSC0670

_DSC0675Finally is an image of one of the absolutely tiny prawn juveniles that we came across. The image doesn’t show perspective but you’ll have to believe me that this was only about 1.5 cm long. They were darting around like crazy, so this was one of only I think two shots that actually captured it in focus. With the dark background here the transparency of the body is visible, which as it ages will become ore opaque. From the patterns I’m pretty sure these were common prawn young, which will  develop into pretty purple and yellow striped crustaceans as they grow.

_DSC0653

So that’s all the images from this dive, all commonly sighted species, which could in fact be found either rock pooling or snorkelling should you fancy it in these lovely warm waters of 12 degrees!

Photos of 2013

I’m jumping on that bandwagon, and making one of those ‘my images from 2013’ type posts. We all do them, and lets face it, it’s a good way to see some of the best images from one year in one post.

I’ve not done one of these before, and I wasn’t sure whether to try have one image taken per month, or just 12 of the best. I’ve decided on a selection of the best, because for some of the first few months of early 2013 I was doing much more editing and video shooting rather than stills.

This has been a fantastic year for me personally, and a lot of wonderful first sightings, some of which will feature below. So here’s my chosen set, in chronological order, of some of the best wildlife photographs I have enjoyed taking this year:

1- Barn owl from Screech owl sanctuary (captive). A great day, and a lovely bird to be able to get close proximity to. Later on in the year I did photograph a wild barn owl, but the images were nowhere near as strong as this one. I do love backlighting. _DSC6077

 

2- Sea urchin. One very very cold dive. But a pretty cool subject!DSC_2443

 

3- Turnstone – the Outer Hebrides. A seriously awesome trip with some amazing people. _DSC8643

4- Purple Sandpiper. Another from the Hebrides trip, I definitely couldn’t narrow it down to just the one image! Other highlights of this trip was sightings of golden eagle, white tailed sea eagle, and wild snowy owl. Phenomenal. _DSC9493

5- Pomarine Skuas – the Outer Hebrides (again yes). The time I spent sat on this headland in the stormy weather was exhilarating, and one of my favourite moments from the week. _DSC8919

 

6- Fox cubs! My first sightings of wild cubs. _DSC0838

 

7- Juvenile cuttlefish. The first half of my year was much about birds, and other land based photography, the second half I began to focus on my underwater photography, which I have really loved. DSC_4004

 

8- Snorkelling with grey seals. This doesn’t really need explaining! _DSC1187

 

9- The Scylla & the James Eagan Layne shipwrecks. The beginnings of my project, this image is in fact the Eagan Layne but both were dived in the same day and were great dives. My love for this beautiful green tinge you get in British waters grows. DSC_4694

 

10- Compass Jellyfish. One of the more abstract images I took, focusing on the water surface instead. Jellyfish are beautiful subjects to work with. DSC_4294

 

11- Nudibranch, Coryphella browni. My first EVER nudibranch (sea slug) sighting! Extremely exciting. _DSC1453-1

 

12- Syracusa shipwreck. The project continues. DSC_4364

 

13- Obelia hydriod sample under the microscope. More recent project work. _DSC3610

 

I may have squeezed in 13 instead of 12 images, but they were all too important for me to cut out any! There was so many more events and photo-shoots I could have spoken about here, but I think this set gives the most balanced and varied representation of my year in wildlife photography!

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Happy 2014!

 

Microscopy moving image – obelia hydroids

This is a bit of practice I’ve made this week as a part of my study into the ecosystem of shipwrecks.
It may seem a bit out of context but this is imagery of pink seaweed and obelia hydoids, both early colonisers onto wrecks, samples of which I collected whilst diving at the weekend.

Despite my usual dislike for pink, I really love the colours throughout these clips, and the fantastic shapes against the dark background.
Filmed through a microscope, darkfield (mainly) at varying magnification between 50x and 100x.
I’m really enjoying this more experimental art filming work, contrasting to my more documentary style still images that make up the bulk of this project to date.

Enjoy!

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