Monday, 7 May 2012

Finally- snorkelling season begins!

 Flounder (Platichthys flesus) - feeds on small crustaceans in shallow seas and estuaries.

For the last month I've been waiting with baited breath for the snorkelling season to begin.                         
     Over the winter many inshore fish move to deeper waters, protected from storms and with a   more stable temperature. Seaweed dies back, there's little light for photosynthesis and     Storms damage fragile fronds of algae. The only life remaining in the 1-10m zone our a few hardy invertebrates, spiny starfish, sea cucumbers and small crabs. 
     But as the sea begins  to warm again in spring a phenomenal change takes place, within a few weeks the seabed is coated in gently waving algae, a myriad of colours, shapes and sizes. Emerald green christmas trees, sunset-orange pompoms and sapphire-dipped strands. 
   This time of year also offers some of the best snorkelling visibility wise, the winter storms are over but the summer algal clouds haven't had time to bloom. The top and bottom photos where both taken at approximately 6 metres using only natural light, in this water clarity the underwater landscape is often more breathtaking than the wildlife itself.

Sea hare (Aplysia punctata)- 
Our largest sea slug at up to 20cm long, they defend themselves by releasing a noxious, purple slime and change colour depending on the seaweed they feed on.

Spiny spider crab (Maja squinado)-
 Spider crabs are usually well hidden by a covering of weeds and sponges which grow on their carapace. however in June they gather in large numbers. Spider crabs can only mate when they are newly moulted so they need to have breeding partners readily available. They are also extremely vulnerable to predation when newly moulted; so the shell-less individuals can hide at the bottom of the crab pile. protected by a barrier of chitinous armour.

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