The Lesser Yellowshell : 21st September 2014

Diving with an objective adds a little extra to a days entertainment and so it was that we engaged in a survey for one of the least understood of Scotland’s marine invertebrates. There are many organisations and groups that document sighting of our native marine life and when a rare species is seen many people will go out of their way to visit sites with a view to finding and photographing the organism.

Over the last few years an invasive species, the hard-shelled, yellow back sea slug , also known as the Yellowshell, has gradually increased in abundance around our coastline. While most sighting have been associated with extreme depth or sites requiring a hardboat to access them, more and more often, reports have filtered through that they have been spotted near the shore. This then was our objective, to find and photograph this elusive beastie.

Perth-BSAC is not without some academic expertise when it comes to marine life identification, BSc’s, MSc’s and even a PhD or two abound not withstanding the enormous experience of the lay person with decades of actual diving experience and yet with all our combined knowledge there was perhaps only a handful of people who had reported seeing these animals in the wild and fewer still who actually admitted knowing a few rudimentary facts about their habits. What was known was that these shelled invertebrates were slow moving, usually dragging themselves along the bottom trailing vast amounts a silt, presumably a defensive mechanism to stop themselves becoming prey of the more aggressive scallop baggers. It had also been reported that they had been sighted recently in Loch Leven and so the venue for the search was set.

A crack team of five divers met a local expert at Craft’n’things in Ballachulish for 09:30 opening and after a bacon roll and a coffee, a detailed briefing was delivered on how best , given the combined, or rather lack of knowledge, to approach, photograph and possibly collect a specimen. My copy of the Safe Diving practices booklet on close inspection seemed to be missing any guidelines on this subject but it was possibly included in the appendix marked fictional creatures and dragons.

A short transfer to the site and the first wave, equipped with torches, probes and specimen collection jars was duly dispatched on the initial search, the objective was to confirm the site details, identify any potential dangers involved in specimen collection, identify suitable survey areas and report back to the surface support team, where upon the survey teams would enter the water to photograph and collect a specimen. Soon it became clear, by the surface bubble patterns, that a battle royale was in progress and the second team was dispatched to provide assistance. In went the second team and immediately swan perpendicular to the direction the first team had taken avoiding all contact and enjoying excellent vis and fish life. The first team surfaced on time reporting no sightings but an enjoyable dive around the main reef. Meanwhile the second team, while feeling that they were always very close to a Yellowshell, never actually identified either a silt trail or the animal itself and surfacing an hour later reported drawing a blank. The final team, surveying the reef at a slightly shallower depth, reported finding a silt trail left by a yellow hardback but again did not actually spot the animal. They reported another excellent dive with some very large saithe, pollack and ling as well as the varied squidgy life this reef is well known for.

With all teams on the surface and time for lunch a review of the survey techniques was called for and changes implemented. A slightly different search area was called for and the first wave, wanting to complete the survey data for the primary search area, retraced their steps in reverse to ensure the beastie was not hiding beneath some small overhang. The remaining teams decided the second reef was more likely to be a potential habitat and set off to survey it. Out and back went the first team shortly followed by the last group who at the turn reported a sighting ironically as they passed the other group on the way back. Clearly group two had by this time become despondent and had given up surveying, looking instead for other marine life and fishing weights attached to mono filament which was collected where possible. The sighting was of interest but without corroborative evidence other than some Lochness monster style images taken from a camera, shaken in the excitement of the encounter and we are still not able to confirm the existence of the elusive Yellowshell. Anecdotal evidence provided by the third team seemed to suggest that the animal was a poor free swimmer, tending instead to bump along the bottom creating it’s silt trail. They did report that they would need a larger catch bag to land a specimen.

Well there you have it. Perth-BSAC first attempt at surveying for the Yellowshell, some success and a steep learning curve for all involved. With this experience it is hoped that we will be able to get much more conclusive evidence on future dives and unequivocally demonstrate the existence of this creature on some if not all of our dive sites. Thanks all for coming and supporting this event and I look forward to working with you in future.

(Ed- what a load of rubbish. Of course they exist, I’ll dig out an image from the Sunday Sport that shows one!)

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Learn to Scuba dive with Perth BSAC

Perth BSAC is starting their try dive season again soon.  For anyone who wants to see if diving is for them and try diving in the safe confines of a swimming pool then it’s time to get in touch and book your space.

Being located on the borders of the Scottish Highlands but within the Central belt, Perth is ideally situated to access many of the most popular dives sites throughout Scotland. It  is a great place to learn and start your diving career.

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An evening splash at Fifeness, 18th June 2014

Crail was definitely cooler than Perth when we traveled across for an evening dive and BBQ, by almost 10°C in fact ! It looked deceptively calm with small waves breaking on the reefs as a high tide filled the gullies.

With a strong snorkeling contingent exploring Fifeness harbour (sic.) five divers kitted up to explore the gully below the WWII pillbox at the Coastguard station (now closed). After a few hiccups with direct feed hoses that didn’t fit and needed to be swapped, we were off in two groups to explore and dependent on the vis, throw in a few drills for the Ocean diver trainees. Chris and Aileen managed to slip off first and having been helped into the water by Gary found excellent vis above a sandy bottom and large brown kelp covering the rocks. Picking up the reef the colorful life was appreciated and a lobster tickled. This turned out to be a recently molted male, with a soft carapace so was returned unharmed. The brightly colored Galathea squat lobster was abundant hiding as they do in cracks and on the underside of overhangs. A good show of fish life hovering at the limit of visibility also made life interesting. Last winter’s storms seemed to have scoured the boulders a little and much more kelp was present that I can remember and loads of wreckage, rusted spares and plate fragments littered the sea bed adjacent to the reef. All interesting stuff.

(Ed – There are numerous wrecks hereabouts and speculation may suggest the metal came from the Vildfugl a 20th century motor tanker lost 1951 or The Brothers a 19th century Schooner lost 1856, and the Downiehills , a steam trawler lost 1926. All would have had some metal on them thought The Brothers and Downiehills had wooden hulls. While completely speculative the amount of rusted plates and spares suggests a metal hull and you can draw your own conclusions as to the likely vessel they came from. Storm and surge action concentrates wreckage in gullies so it is more than likely a scrap yard of multiple wrecks. Interestingly enough, another vessel that came to grief here, the Annette, a brig, lost 1879, was carrying a cargo of pit props and we certainly found several of those.)

We turned with ample air in reserve as Aileen was having a leaking mask day and returned to find a sandy bottom to practice AS drills and ‘ellami calls. No real issues were experienced but it would have been much easier without a flooded mask, still if you have confidence enough to rescue someone when things are not going well you are doing better than most!

The second team, Duane, Andy and Steve, followed us out, passing us towards the end of the reef. Again they reported good and varied life including lobsters of various shapes and sizes and found time to complete AS drills, another good result.

Returning to the shore, we were landed by Gary and Izzy who were providing shore cover and once everyone was back on dry land we joined the BBQ throwing our sausages on the monster grill that Neil had brought. Chat, stick throwing for the dogs and a chance to catch up and meet various family members saw us spend a hour or so before approaching storm clouds, a drop in temperature and the fading light saw the party disperse.

A very pleasant evening with a good result with a couple of open water lessons signed off. Thanks due to Steve for organising another dive, Neil for bringing his BBQ and Izzy and Gary for providing shore cover and of course all those who came along and made the evening such a social success

fifeness map

this extract from RCAHM shows all the wrecks that have come to grief on this part of the coast.

The June DTP at Loch Fyne

It’s a fact of life that the more you put in to something, the more you get out and this was very obvious at this months DTP at Loch Fyne. With the holiday season upon us and with other folk washing their hair Perth_BSAC provided the lion’s share of the instructor and people prepared to muck in and help out. Only fair really as we also took most trainees!

On what can only be described as a fantastic west-coast day with a flat calm sea, warm water and good vis the Perth club had three sessions running. Firstly a drysuit and buoyancy familiarization being led by Chirs and an Ocean diver completing his dive Leader lesson under Steve’s watchful gaze with another buddy pair practicing their navigation and buoyancy within the confines of the bay. One other pair from Dundee were undertaking Sports diver training under Edward Haynes’ watchful gaze.

Leading_a_dive_training

All the hard work was today rewarded with firstly a good session being completed covering drysuits and buoyancy culminating in two exploratory dives where the new skills were put into practice. Steve was set a hard task and asked to teach dive leading to a team consisting of an Ocean Diver and a Dive Leader trainee. By running the Dive leader sessions as examples of best practice our Ocean diver had some of the most comprehensive training for his grade possible. Well done to Steve for his innovative approach, clearly an Advanced Instructor in waiting ! Edward reported varying levels of success with his trainees who struggled with deco stops partly due in part to a poorly fitting drysuit and using skills no longer part of the BSAC syllabus and seldom practiced (never a good idea on an assessment). A greater emphasis will be seen here in upcoming months as BSAC reviews buoyancy skills in training.

completed
All in all a very good event with some good diving and with a diver competing his Ocean Diver practical sessions, a very good result.

thanks to Maureen and Fred for the photos

The Caves and the Chana, Sunday 16th March

Two divers ventured out on Sunday. Leaving Perth in glorious spring weather, by Crieff we were in cloud and by the time we were driving down Loch Lomondside it was raining. The Pit Stop cafe was the start point for the day where we finalised our plans and having had a bacon roll and a coffee drove down to ‘The Caves’ where much to our surprise we came across some friends from the Regional training.

Today was a check out dive for the upcoming Trimix course that both Steve and I were doing and as Steve chuckled mercilessly I struggled down the culvert with a twin set and stage to arrive at the waters edge exhausted….

We buddy checked and literally slid into the water when the first of several kit problems surfaced. Having mounted my torch battery on my twin set I was peeved to realise it was the same side that I carried my stage which meant that I was lopsided, well until that is, I had drained the right hand cylinder! Next issue was the torch was playing up ! Looks like a connection problem with the umbilical so resurfacing to ensure it was securely screwed into the battery and we were off, again. Vis was not that good but improved with depth and as the life ran out and we moved onto mud we decided to turn and explore the boulders. Perhaps too early in the season for any really good life, only the usual suspects were on show though a good sized lobster did put in a surprise appearance. Problem three presented as I switched to my stage and the regulator started free flowing (which it did not do on descent) but as we were within our no-stop times it was not a real problem but highly preferable finding out now rather than with a hard ceiling to contend with! We finished the dive by gently drifting with the flood current to surface beneath a canopy of trees somewhere on the side of the loch which presented the slight issue in finding the exit point. By swimming out from the shore we were able to spot the culvert a mere 25 meters away and made our exit. All that was left was to haul ourselves up the culvert and land exhausted at the cars having completed another good dive and necessary check out. (Annual medical! – Ed)

Back to the Pit Stop for a cup of tea and a piece of cake and then a delightful drive to Loch Fyne to check out the access to some dive sites and then across to Taynuilt on Loch Etive where I introduced Steve to the delightful little wreck of the Chana.

Loch Etive was dark today and the water temp struggled to reach 7 degree but once on the wreck visibility was good enough to see all we needed to as we explored. I had the chance to have a close look at feeding Horse muscles and a cheeky little blenny that had made a home in a pipe hole. Hatches, rudders, props and wheel were all checked and the little portable generator on the deck made an interesting discovery. Having circled the wreck twice we made took a bearing for the shore and made our way back via the bottles and rubbish that has piled up hereabouts over the ages. A tea pot and a wine glass stopped us for a while before we surfaced slightly further along the shore than we had planned.

The trip home was broken at Crianlariach before arriving home somewhat later than usual but today we had been exploring !

South Scotland Regional DTP, Loch Fyne, 8th March 2014

It’s not until you step out of your comfort zone and try something a little different that you really appreciate the effort that other people put in. This month the usual organiser had asked me to stand in and run the event, well how hard could that be? I was about to find out.

Preparations starts in earnest about a week before the event with a trickle of notes coming in from people asking to join and as these increase you start to worry about the number of instructors that you have in the pool to assist. You can count on most but illness and other potential commitments sees you phoning each in turn to get that oh so important commitment to show up and coach trainees. A late surge of interest and finally the ’11th hourists’ and we were set with just enough instructors to cover the variety of skills that had been asked for. Of course on the day it never follows the plan!

This month I am very please to report that Perth-BSAC played a lions share in the days events with two instructors, an assistant diving instructor and an assist Dive manager, all of who were key to the days activities. Well done guys!

Having completed the Welcome speech, site brief and allocated trainees to instructors, it was on to the first lesson. Paul went off to start sports diver training with two trainees from Dundee, Hamish practiced his instructional abilities under the watchful gaze of an NQI and while various other groups went about their lessons I supervised a trainee OWI putting Hadyn and another trainees through a weight check and their first dive in the bay area. After an initial shout for more weight we sank into terrible vis which we had to put up with until, basic drills completed, we were able to move into slightly deeper water (3m) where we found the vis actually improved. The stour was an edge effect and in real terms vis was quite good once you got away from the beach. Conscious of the fact this was a first dive for Haydn we didn’t go far or deep just bimbled, looking at crabs, starfish and the other life that we usually take for granted. We ended up doing a clockwise circuit onto the shallow reef to the right of the bay were much to Haydn’s delight and my intense surprise we found a very large and old, admiralty pattern anchor. Next week we will go back and find the rest of the wreck!

After the break and now with Euan performing the role of Assistant Dive manager things flowed more smoothly and the dive slate no longer languished forlornly neglected on the beach. Paul continued with his trainees who both performed well, another great performance there. Hadyn went for a dive along the inner reef seeing some good life including a superb Polycera nudibranch and coming out with a smile broader than his hood.

Some impressive stats on today’s dives but from a club’s perspective some good training delivered, a couple of lessons signed off, a first open water dive and we found a wreck ! (anchors don’t count – Ed!) Many thanks to all the instructors and helpers who made the day possible. Remember the event runs every 2nd Saturday of the month, looking forward to seeing you in April.

Sunday shore diving. Loch Leven. 23rd Februry 2014

A couple of hardy souls drove across to the west coast for a shore dive on Sunday through some very wet landscapes. Loch Earn was full and the Glen Falloch was flooded and in spate. Loch Tulla was lapping at the A82 and sheep stranded by the rising water where clustering on small islands waiting to be rescued.

We arrived slightly early and had a look at the Slates dive site and were very pleased to see that it was sheltered from the Southerlies that were sweeping across the loch raising water sprites which flung themselves along the far shore. Retiring to Craft and Things to meet ours guests and friends we were soon enjoying egg rolls and fresh coffee and watching squalls stravage through the glen wreaking havoc while we sheltered in the friendly warmth that the cafe had to offer. With one new member in the team and admin completed it was back to the site to give a short brief and get the first wave in. Edward and Alan and then Hamish and Alistair were in first which gave Chris a chance to work with Claire doing some prep for her upcoming PIE while providing shore cover. The first pair circumvented the main spit while the second pair did a there and back coming back to their entry point, both pair kept good time and stuck to their dive plans ! (Kudos — Ed). Chris and Claire went into the bay to practice AS drills and then extended the dive along the wall, coming back on time and again to plan. Both waves reported exceptionally good visibility with numerous dogfish and a superb Nudibranch (possibly Cadlina laevis)
Cadlina laevis

After a brief surface interval, the afternoon dive saw the same teams back in the water squeezing out a second dive from the mornings tanks taking advantage of a shallower profile. Hamish and buddy went off to explore the reef again getting some impressive perspective of the angle in the excellent visibility while the other teams bumbled around to the right of the bay exploring the large anchors and chains and finding some big glacial slabs. On the way back and in the shallows, the rocks supported colonies of sponges. Of note was a blue rayed limpet reflecting iridescent in a torch beam and of course a couple of nudibranchs, much smaller than the mornings specimen.

That was it, a final warm up in the cafe to chew the cudd before driving back to Perth although we couldn’t resist the opportunity to pay our respects to the badger! Another superb day in the water with great company and a good lesson that you can always get in somewhere if you really want too.