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.

 

 

 

Long overdue update & underwater river images

I have again been neglecting the blogging, but all quiet on the social media usually means I am ridiculously busy, rather than I haven’t been doing anything new.

The recent updates are that in a few days I will be a qualified Divemaster, which I have been spending most of the last few months training for. I also found out last week that I have been awarded an environmental bursary from the Royal Photographic Society, which is going to allow me to pursue and document a project which I feel very passionately about. I will be telling the story of the Marine Conservation Zones, and am so grateful for this opportunity to cover a subject I have been wanting to for so long. I will discuss this project further later on, when it gets underway in a month or so. I’m also off to China in 3 weeks, with my fellow recent graduates and a couple of our lecturers, to work on a collaborative project with a university in Beijing, and also teach some photography workshops. So, it’s all very exciting and busy!

However, the main purpose of this post was to share some images from a couple of months ago. I was commissioned by WWF-UK to document some underwater imagery of a particular chalk stream/river. I also had the pleasure of working alongside the awesome Andrew Parkinson, who had been commissioned to do the topside imagery, and who I must thank for recommending me for the project in the first place!

I won’t lie, I was pretty nervous about this project, because although I’m very comfotable working underwater, freshwater is an environment where I had limited experience, and the rules of underwater photography differ a little between freshwater and marine environments.

I was only shooting for a few days, but I think I still took around 3000 images! So obviously I can’t share them all but I would like to talk about a few.

The main trials I encountered at first was the finding of the species; various fish etc. Even when finding some of the fish, photographing them is a huge challenge in itself without the use of a pole camera. One of my set-ups was the image below, which involved the camera, in it’s housing, on a tripod where there were Trout upstream, the shutter set to interval, and myself on a bridge above, attempting to bait the Trout close to the camera with bread.

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This was the best shot I achieved with this set up and a bit of perseverance, the fish is visible but it’s not really what I was hoping for. So instead of wasting more time, this was abandoned, and other shots ensued…

trout

This shot of the banded demoiselle is one I had visualised since the recce of the site; watching these damselflies for a while you notice how they land for a little while on anything floating in the water, and as I was in the water, I tried stalking them. Most of the time this didn’t work, as they only settle for a minute, and flew off when I got too close, but I had one successful shot, which I am pretty happy with, especially considering it’s taken with a 10-17mm fisheye lens, so you can imagine how close I really had to be!

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Here’s a shot of Andy working in the river, behind the scenes kinda stuff! And yes, that’s him sat in the river with his rather expensive 600mm lens inches above the water…

andy

This is one of the more creative images I took, there’s a few more in this kind of style, conveying the “underwater Amazon” as this river had been aptly named. The reeds made a good subject, with their jagged shape, but actually most of the time I was shooting like this I couldn’t see the viewfinder, as I was holding the camera upwards, so it was a little hit and miss sometimes, and again a lot of preserving and repeating of the same shot.

DSC_3690

A last image for this post is this water crowfoot, shown from underwater. I was attempting to capture the reflection in the water level, reflections are great to work with, and I love the sheer amount of green in this particular shot! These flowers are common around habitats like this, and add a little colour to these underwater scenes.

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I will continue with the river work another day and share some more from this shoot, and there’s also a few different images on my website if anyone’s keen to see more – www.charlottesams.com

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Surveying & the Isles of Scilly

Yesterday I had a wonderful time, surveying on the Isles of Scilly steamship for ORCA. This involves a team of three of us volunteers standing out on the bridge for the duration of the crossing, surveying for marine life and rotating through various roles. I got up at 5am and we took the 7am ferry from Penzance, and left on the 5.30pm one, meaning a fairly long day but also lots of free time on the islands! If you want to find out more about ORCA and what they do click here.

The sea was so beautifully flat, and was ideal conditions for any sightings. The journey over was a little busier than the one back, but the total sightings of the day was as follows: 30+ barrel jellyfish (localised to the area nearer to Penzance), 1 sunfish (mola mola), 3 rissos dolphins (i was on the other side for these), a few grey seals, common dolphins (also missed these!), and plenty of various seabirds (Gannets, gulls, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars etc).

Note – please click on any of the images featured below to view them at larger size. 

Barrel Jellyfish from the ferry. I think this gives an idea of how calm the water was, no white crests in sight at all, wonderful! These jellyfish have been documented all over Cornwall recently in their masses, I’m hoping to see one whilst in the water next to photograph it in it’s environment and at eye level.

_DSC6531

Mola mola. Probably around the area because of the multitude of jellyfish, a brief but pretty awesome sighting. Sunfish are utterly strange looking fish, and this image just about shows their large flat body close to the water surface with the fin poking out, leaving behind gentle ripples. _DSC6537

 

So, the other half of the day was spent adventuring round the Isles of scilly, firstly by taking one of the wildlife watching boat trips to the western rocks (obviously we couldn’t get enough of being on boats looking for wildlife). This trip apparently only goes on extremely calm waters and is quite uncommon so was definitely worth it to see a different aspect of the islands.

Puffins ahoy! These little birds have begun to arrive on the islands now, was very good to see a few of the sea parrots about.

_DSC6567

A pair of  shags, carrying nesting material across the waters.

_DSC65911

Trying to get a bit of movement into the image; guillemots taking off from their perch.

_DSC6614

Guillemot & shag silhouetted.

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I also met up with photographer Ed Marshall on the island, (you should check out his work here) and he very kindly got in front of my lens whilst I was photographing this razorbill…but you can still see the razorbill, and they are really quite attractive birds. We were quite lucky to see them from such a close distance.

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Razorbills in monochrome. The sun had come out by this point and the light was quite harsh as it was nearing midday, so I found this image looked much better in black & white, simple colours to compliment the simple composition.

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This next blob is another sunfish, maybe not believable photo evidence but it’s true! To see two in one day was very cool. This was also followed by the appearance of some harbour porpoises, I chose not to include these images though as they were just a load of fin shots. But yes for some reason I still included this evidentially fantastic image of a mola mola.

_DSC6657

Back on St Mary’s, we explored a little more around the coastline, and came across some amazing rock formations. These boulders tsacked on top of one another had created a kind of a ledge with an overhang, looking straight out to the ocean – beautiful! It also made a kind of a frame around this scene, I promise it’s not just a bad panoramic.

_DSC6729

 

So all in all a really beautiful day, and thanks to Dan, Hazel & Ed for sharing it. I didn’t spend as much time photographing as I’d planned, but enjoyed simply being outside and walking around the island, and wanted to share that in this post. Hopefully I shall return to the Scillies some time soon for some underwater image making!

Rockpools

Now that I’ve finished my degree, and my latest project, I wanted to have a bit of a play with some different underwater/marine photography before I start the next one. Rockpool photography is something that I haven’t done enough of, it’s the kind of thing that seems like it’s easy until you actually try it. It’s not easy, you find yourself contorting into strange positions to try and angle the camera and strobes, and half the time you’re blind shooting because you can’t see the LCD screen or through the viewfinder. I may even go so far to say underwater photography whilst diving is easier, (sometimes).

Having said this, it’s also really fun. You get to paddle around in water and find fish and crustaceans and simply spend time at the coast. So, I spent a little while doing just this.

I’ll admit it wasn’t the greatest day for species sightings, my eyes weren’t on it today, but I was more enjoying just being there than looking for small creatures.

 

I absolutely love the colours in this first image; the yellow appearing almost golden. This images are all proof of the fantastic colours in British seas, and the importance of using strobes to highlight these amazing natural colours!

_DSC2735

 

A strawberry anemone, Actinia fragacea, here clings to an underside of the rock. I enjoy using the water surface as a mirror, creating more colour within the images. Strawberry anemones are very common, and I saw plenty of them today, they are usually bigger than beadlet anemones and on this particular site, located nearer to the sea than some of the other anemone species which were more prevalent further up the intertidal zone.

_DSC2716

 

I found a dead edible crab, Cancer pagurus. It was actually floating on the water like this, I promise I didn’t put it there! But I was very grateful that it was still fresh enough to float, because it allowed me to experiment even more with reflections.

_DSC2667

 

I often lean towards creating darker images (see above as an example), but I did want to convey how bright and beautiful the seaweeds were in these images too, and the yellows blend pleasingly with the touch of green-blue water here.

_DSC2706

 

So I may not have found many animals today, but lots of species of seaweed! A fish or a mollusc may have added a bit more to these photographs, and I’ll work on that in the future, I think the simplicity of this composition still works well.

_DSC2694

Floating crab #2. A little more colour in this one by using a wider aperture, and a rather cross eyed looking crab in my opinion.

_DSC2676

This image was my attempt to convey the lovely curls of the underwater seaweed, and kind of my interpretation of the pool. It shows a good comparison between the topside and underwater worlds. Personally I think the underwater side looks much more appealing!

_DSC2619

 

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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