Back to blogging, (my life is now sharks).

Good morning world, I’m writing this from a cafe in Cornwall, drinking my fourth or fifth coffee of the day, just outside Falmouth where I lived up until recently.

I’m currently on a break from my new job & home, and am trying to use this time to catch up on all things that I’ve let slide whilst I’ve been working, such as writing, drawing, etc. I now live in South Bimini, the Bahamas, a tiny island only 50 miles from Miami, and very far away from the rest of the Bahamas, and also anything I’ve been used to.

I recently started working at the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation, AKA the Sharklab, as their Media Manager, and it’s been a massive learning curve so far. (The reason I’m telling you all this is not to boast, but just to introduce what I’m currently doing, so that the Shark related posts that will inevitably follow, don’t seem too random and out of place.)

Anyway, back to Bimini. The Sharklab is a world renowned field station, now in it’s 25th year. There’s a number of permanent staff, and a rotation of volunteers, and we all live and work in very close quarters within the same building.

We work long hours, we get few days off, have minimal personal space, and we live on an island where there’s only 2 restaurant/bars, one very small store, and an airport. But, we get to work with sharks.
I’ve never been shark obsessed; I make no secret in the fact that I love all kinds of marine life, and could never choose a favourite, but since working at the lab, I love sharks a hell of a lot more. My experience with sharks was minimal before working here, I’d dived with them a few times, and thought they were pretty cool, but in all honesty I didn’t know much about them. Now I’m lucky enough to live surrounded by scientists, conducting numerous research projects on a range of the species we get around Bimini. I’m happy to say I’m learning a lot more biology, and loving being around active science and being involved in projects that ultimately contribute to marine conservation.

My role is varied, and I won’t go into the details of that too much, but a part of it includes generating media content, and documenting the work we do, i.e. a fair amount of photography. And this is what I’ll be focusing on in the coming weeks in this blog, sharing one or two images of a specific species, with a little about the story behind the image(s).

Shark numero uno…

The first shark I encountered in Bimini was a juvenile tiger shark.

I was lucky enough to arrive around the time of our monthly longline set. And before you panic, this isn’t the usual kind of longlining that you may have heard as being awful, this is shallow water, very small scale longlines, that are checked every few hours. You can read more about it on the lab’s website here (http://www.biminisharklab.com/research/researchtechniques).

Tiger sharks, Galeocerdo cuvier, are fairly common around here, and as a species worldwide they are listed as near threatened by the IUCN. We encounter juvenile, semi adult, and mature tigers, unlike some of the other species we work with around here.

Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 11.09.20

That’s my first ever tiger shark image, and definitely not one of my best, but it sets the scene for you. (It’s not always that calm and sunny out there as well!).

DSC_6515-3

This is my favourite juvenile tiger shark image to date, which is in fact a screenshot from a clip, filming the release of this individual after a work-up whilst one of our college field courses were visiting. A work-up varies on details, but involves taking data for each individual shark; measurements, DNA & isotope samples. Also, we tag our sharks with PIT tags, an ID tag like a microchip. They sometimes are implanted with acoustic transmitters, meaning we can pick up their movements on receivers we have around the island. I love the patterns on juvenile tigers, look at those spots on the tail! Seriously beautiful.

Since living in Bimini, I’ve worked with adult tiger sharks too, but honestly I don’t have anywhere near as many photos of these yet. This is something I’m hoping to improve upon in my future at the lab, and safe to say I’m excited to see what this adventure brings!

Part of my job is to run the social media pages of the lab – if you’d like to see more photos of sharks and learn more about what we get up to there do follow the following links:

https://www.facebook.com/biminisharklab

https://twitter.com/BiminiSharkLab

http://www.instagram.com/biminisharklab/

Thanks for reading! Lemon sharks will be featured next!

www.charlottesams.com

Advertisements

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!

 

 

 

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!?

http://www.charlottesams.com

https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteSamsPhotography

 

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.

www.facebook.com/CharlotteSamsPhotography

www.charlottesams.com

 

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.

_DSC0658

_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!

starfish video

This is a quick edit from a clip I took diving a few evenings ago. A common starfish moving across the seabed with a diver in the background. I’m trying to practice my underwater filming a lot more for my project. Its a huge challenge keeping the camera steady and getting a strong enough light source as well. The white balance is possibly a little off in this edit but that is something I will experiment with to try perfect it.