I recently spent a couple of weeks working on the beaches of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Life can be tough sometimes. It was the beginning of May, pre-midges and so often hot in Scotland. We did have lots of sunshine whilst the rest of Britain swam in rain but oh, so cold! There was a bitter north east wind for most of the trip which brought in hail storms for at least a couple of days. Despite the wind, and dressed in our best winter outfits, we walked miles across some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and counted cockles, worms and anything that didn’t escape the sieve. We also found a little time Continue reading
Category Archives: Marine biology
I remember a moment, many years ago as a baby diver, when my buddy grabbed me, signalling frantically at something on a rock. I was clutching a borrowed Nikonos camera with the smallest macro frame attached – this would photograph things that were a couple of inches across, nothing bigger. I peered at the rock but couldn’t see anything special. There were a few frilly things that might have been hydroids. There was a stripy bit which could have been a worm but didn’t quite fit. There was something black and round. I gave my buddy a puzzled glance and looked again. Then suddenly my mental search area shifted from the camera frame dimensions to the whole rock ledge and I gasped. I was looking at Continue reading
I’m sure we are all inspired by different people at different stages in our life. As a geeky teenager, I thought Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus were where it was at as I trotted off to study French at university. I read everything I could get my hands on, in French of course. Can I speak French now? Of course not. As a young marine biologist I thought Sylvia Earle was just wonderful, and parts of me still do. But her image became tarnished when I heard her speak at a conference. She was “Me, me me!”, ran over her time by half an hour or more and then handed over to her photographer for another hour. Bad chairmanship of course, but I don’t think inspirational figures should really let on that they think they’re wonderful as well. It should be a one-sided affair.
Somewhere between Sartre and Earle, I met Monsieur Edwards, or maybe Edwardes – I don’t know the spelling and can’t remember his first name. We were staying in Sombra, a cottage near Port Antonio, on the north coast of Jamaica. It was an idyllic spot with its own little beach, Continue reading
Dancing on stars
It’s the week before Christmas and Tara’s Gallery theme is Sparkle. I don’t have time to write a new post and in any case these are my sparkle pictures of the moment – phosphorescent waves lapping on the shore in the Maldives. I don’t feel too guilty rejigging this post from a few weeks ago as the phosphorescence was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in a long time and not many people spotted this post. So here’s my offering for Sparkle: Dancing on Stars.
It was our last night on holiday. Our bags were packed. GP2 was already in bed. We wandered out onto the beach for the last time. The full moon we’d had all week was now waning, and was still hidden behind the palm trees. We could see the Milky Way above us on this dark night with no city glow to disturb us. But down at our feet, the waves lapping on the beach were shimmering bright blue, tracing chains on the sand like strings of Christmas lights or necklaces of sparkling stones.
I’ve been wandering along beaches most of my life but have never seen phosphorescence so bright or so blue. We paddled in the waves and as we lifted our feet the tiny algae attached to the soles cast an eery glow over the sand. We dragged a reluctant son out of bed and he was soon jumping in the wavelets with us.
We tried to take photographs in the darkness but, without a tripod to hand, we were taking pictures of blackness. It was a magical moment, dancing on stars.
Black and white in colour
Tara’s Gallery theme this week is Black and white which seemed too good an opportunity to miss. This photo of a sea anemone is one of my favourites and my Facebook comrades will recognise it from my profile picture. I took it years ago in the late 1980s on an expedition to St Kilda. There is an underwater cave about 25m down, right below the peak of the island of Dùn in Village Bay; the roof of the cave is covered with sheets of these white cluster anemones (and I’m sorry, we have to do Latin here) Parazoanthus anguicomus. This photo might not win prizes or be technically the best but I like it. It evokes for me a wonderful dive site and some great trips to the very edge of Scotland. Happy times!
This little anemone (each one is about 1cm across) is always found in good places. It lives along much of the west coast of Scotland, although it doesn’t make it further south than the north coast of Ireland, but the brightest, whitest ones live in the clear offshore waters, and particularly on the specatacular underwater cliffs of St Kilda. It has a yellow sibling species, which, preferring warmer waters, only makes it as far north as south west Scotland; rather like Will and Ed the Grundy brothers, the two are only rarely seen in each others company.
Anyone who has dived in British waters will know that they frequently have to justify their strange proclivities to the unbelievers of this world.
“Oh, it must be so cold!” Well yes, it can be, but so’s skiing. You just have to wear the right gear. “And surely there’s nothing to see. Isn’t it all dirty brown?” So, just to show you that it’s not all black and white and dirty brown in underwater Britain, I’ve put in a few other sea anemone-type photos.
And in case this counts as cheating, here’s a post I wrote early last year which has some proper black and white photos. I was contemplating writing something using these pictures when I remembered that I’d already done it.
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig
“It hasn’t stopped raining for two days! I haven’t been able to get any washing out” GP1 said.
Head snaps round. Eyes swivel left. Is that my son talking? The one who had six wet towels on his bedroom floor the last time I arrived home from fieldwork? Well, I have to confess it was those six towels that did it, particularly when combined with the five more I found on his brother’s floor and the distinct absence of clean, dry, sweet smelling towels in the airing cupboard. But I’ve already told you about those. What I maybe didn’t tell you was that I threw a wobbly and when shortly after I left for yet another two weeks work, there were rules. Continue reading
I’m sure we all have friends hovering on the periphery of our consciousness. Friends who have been important in a particular stage of our life but with whom we may have lost touch. Even so, we think about them often and know that if we were to meet up, we would pick up just where we left off all those years ago. Julia was one of those friends. We were at University together in Durham, mainstays of the diving club. Every weekend we all piled into the university minibus and headed off up the old A1 to St Abbs where we dived off the shore, either at Petticowick or outside the Harbour. Petticowick was a slog; a steep, grassy slope down with the gear and, of course, back up at the end of the dive.
My first dive in Britain was at Petticowick, after learning to dive during a gap year in Jamaica. I vividly remember my introduction to the cold, greenish murk of a November kelp forest, shivering in a too big borrowed wetsuit with a piece of orange canvas that purported to be a life jacket around my neck. “Wasn’t that wonderful!” proclaimed my buddy, Tim, later of Eden Project fame, as we staggered out of the water. “Drifting down through the kelp, in that beautiful clear water!” He clearly hadn’t been on the same dive as me. Still, I perservered and learned to like, if not love, kelp forests. The following year Julia and Chas arrived in Durham and joined me in the diving club while I switched subjects and joined them in Zoology lectures. We became firm friends within a wider group Continue reading
A bloggy good idea
I don’t often post about the work I do, having been jumped on from an enormously great height early on in my blogging career. Yesterday I was in Inverness presenting some work I’ve been involved in to the relevant SNH staff; this post isn’t about that work, before anyone gets excited, but is about some discussions en route. Five of us in a car from Perth, thanks to the rail strike (for once I had bought a ticket ahead of schedule 🙁 ), did prompt a certain amount of chatter.
The guys were discussing the problems of an internal newletter they were planning to produce. Once a month? Every 2 weeks? How long? Paper or email? Would people read it? “Why don’t you make it a blog?” said I. “Blog?” they chorused, as though I had just suggested Continue reading
To boldly go
Read in younger son’s physics homework the other day: “The bench moves you fastly to the start and then slowly back through the…”
Nothing to do with hadrons or black holes, fortunately.
Me: “There’s no such word as ‘fastly’.” 😆
Him: “Yes there is. What’s wrong with fastly?” 😎
Me: “The word’s ‘fast’. But that doesn’t really work there; you can use ‘rapidly’ or ‘quickly’ but not fastly.” 🙄
Him: “‘Slow’ and ‘slowly’ are OK so what’s wrong with ‘fastly’?” 😛
Me: “It’s just not English. Perhaps the DofE had a point when he asked if you could read and write.” 😈
The conversation progressed on those lines. I eventually won.
It reminded me, though, of some other ‘…ly’s and various dislikes. Continue reading
Not a bad day
But all good things have a downside, do they not? Warm, calm weather in Shetland is midge nirvana. The irritating midges on our holiday in Co Donegal the previous week were novice apprentices Continue reading