From the Jurassic Coast of Dorset to the northernmost waters of Scotland, there is a huge array of incredible landscapes and animals beneath the water’s surface in the UK. The Marine Conservation Society has gathered together some of the amazing ocean imagery capturing the wonders of UK seas by talented photographers and divers around the country.
Read the photographers’ stories behind the captivating images, enjoy some unexpected sightings and get inspired to head to the UK’s coasts and seas as lockdown eases and summer draws closer.
The Marine Conservation Society’s sightings programme asks beachgoers to report animals including jellyfish, turtles and basking sharks when they spot them in UK waters. Divers can join Seasearch, a volunteer diving programme that monitors underwater life, with the opportunity to hone underwater photography skills.
Creatures of the deep
Sea hare, Swanage Pier, Dorset, UK, June 2020
The story: Sea hares look brown and sluggish at first glance but if you look closely they have delicate patterns and colours. I used a snooted spotlight effect to show this off and highlight the head tentacles which resemble a hare’s ears, giving this animal its common name.
Fluorescent fireworks anemone, Inveraray, Loch Fyne, July 2020.
The story: Over recent years underwater fluorescence photography has become a passion of mine, particularly in British waters. I never know quite what I’m going to find that will fluoresce under the blue (near UV) light. After spending the day diving at the Garvellachs my buddy and I decided to stop off for an evening dive in Loch Fyne. The site we decided on was at Inveraray slip which is fantastic for fireworks anemones. This particularly large individual was a favourite of mine from this dive as I was able to capture the whole anemone with its long tentacles stretched out within frame.
Flabellina pedata nudibranch, Swanage pier, England, 14 July 2020.
The story: The colours of this nudibranch make it not only one of our most flamboyant, but also easiest to spot! In a dark area under the pier this individual was making its way along a stalk of kelp. A flash of pink and purple in my torch light caught my eye, and so I had the pleasure of observing it for several minutes before I moved on.
Tompot blenny, Babbacombe Beach, Torquay, Devon, UK, June 2020.
The story: This tompot blenny is presenting a smiley face to the camera but he’s actually carefully guarding a stash of eggs in the crack behind him. Male tompots can be quite feisty in guarding their territory, which they keep clean and tidy, ready for several females to lay eggs in, if they’re lucky. They will fertilise the eggs and guard them for around a month in the early Summer.
Forests of the sea
Grey seals in surge, taken at Eilean Cluimhrig, Loch Eriboll, Scotland, UK
The story: The Grey seals on the North coast of Scotland are not as accustomed to divers as in some UK locations, but it was fun to watch them enjoying themselves at a distance. They were far more comfortable in the surging waves than I was, as I clung on to kelp to capture this photo.
Young Lumpsucker, Kinlochbervie, Sutherland, Scotland. 4th November 2020
The story: This young lumpsucker was about the size of a tennis ball and was living attached to the blades of sugar kelp. My buddy Kirsty Andrews found this one and I photographed it with one of my flashes backlighting the kelp to reveal its golden colour. As always with great finds, it was at the end of a long and chilly November dive, so I only had time for a few pictures before I had to bid it goodbye. I like the featherstar arms peeking into the background of this image, which are so characteristic of this area in the far north west of Scotland.
Spiny starfish (Marthasterias glacialis), Wembury, Devon, 4th June 2020.
The story: This starfish slowly walking up to the top of the kelp canopy was seeking a good vantage point from where it could release its spawn. A chemical sent out by females with their eggs prompts neighbouring starfish to join the party.
Brown crab in amongst dense animal turf, Falls of Lora, Loch Etive. 15th August 2020.
The story: Situated at the narrow entrance to Loch Etive, near Oban, the Falls of Lora has a reputation of being a bit of a scary dive. Given that the tide races through creating upwells, whirlpools, and standing waves, it’s easy to understand why. But done at the right time it is an excellent site and easily a favourite shore dive of mine. There is such amazing underwater topography and proliferation of life at this site, there was plenty to admire and photograph. While swimming along one of the gullies this crab caught my eye as it seemed to be comfortably nestled into the yellow breadcrumb sponge and hydroids surrounding it.
Into the blue
Blue Shark. Penzance, Cornwall, England. 29th September 2020
The story: I’d only seen blue sharks in British waters once before, so was delighted to get the chance on a sunny late-September day in 2020. After a few hours waiting the sharks started arriving, as their numbers built up they became more confident and rewarded me and my buddy with plenty of close passes. This frame of a beautiful female slicing through the autumnal sun was a favourite and stands out because of the blobs of atmospheric lens flare. Blue sharks are sadly the world’s most fished shark, so it was a real treat to see them.
Bib or pouting (Trisopterus luscus), Jurassic Coast, Dorset.
The story: Photographing these large shoals can be a challenge as the fish are highly reflective and change direction constantly. One summer I was drifting through crystal clear waters over an area of huge boulders off the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. The boulder tops were covered with red seaweeds, sponges and antenna hydroids. Suddenly I was joined by this small shoal of bib which swam alongside and just in front of me for several minutes. They would often bunch together nicely, allowing me to snap away as we floated along in the gentle current. It’s wonderful, relaxing dives like this that give you fond memories of British diving and keep you coming back for more.
Basking shark, Isle of Coll, July 2020.
The story: I’ve been over to the Island regularly in the last few years to photograph this huge fish as it migrates up the west coast of Scotland. I wanted to do something different from the classic head-on open mouth shot so I had a custom bit of photography gear built to try and take split shots – something that was rarely seen. It was 2 years in the planning and a real technical challenge due to the dark, plankton rich waters but I had a glorious week on the island with multiple dreamy encounters. This shot was taken on the last night, just as the sun was setting.
Atlantic Puffin, Fair Isle, Shetland.
The story: When photographing an animal, eye contact is a critical component, allowing your viewer to connect with the image. This image breaks many of the traditional rules. The setting sun, the uneasy pose of the puffin and scene all throw up many questions and thoughts. Where is the puffin looking? What is it thinking? What lies beyond the horizon?
For more information about the Marine Conservation Society visit their website by clicking here.
Title image: Mark Kirkland
Minke whale spotted off Cardigan Bay – A first in 10 years!
In a thrilling encounter that left a team of marine researchers in awe, a majestic minke whale was sighted during a line transect survey on June 15, 2023. The remarkable event took place approximately 10 nautical miles off the coast of Cardigan Bay, amidst an area teeming with shearwaters. The whale’s behavior, as observed by Katrin Lohrengel, Sea Watch’s Monitoring Officer, indicated potential foraging activities, as it gracefully engaged in deep dives.
This exceptional sighting is the first documented instance of a minke whale in the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) since 2013, during one of Sea Watch Foundation’s line transect surveys. The significance of this encounter cannot be overstated, as it underscores the importance of continuous scientific efforts in studying and conserving the abundant marine biodiversity of this region. Notably, this is the first minke whale sighting in a decade within the Cardigan SAC, with sightings being more prevalent further down in Pembrokeshire. Additionally, another minke whale was sighted the following day, June 16, 2023, 11 nautical miles off the Llyn Peninsula during a separate survey conducted by Professor Peter GH Evans, Director of the Sea Watch Foundation.
Line-transect surveys play a pivotal role in Sea Watch’s research, providing invaluable data on the presence, abundance, and distribution of marine species in their natural habitats. The sighting of a minke whale further emphasizes the ecological significance of the Cardigan Bay SAC, highlighting the urgent need for sustained conservation efforts to safeguard this vital marine environment.
Renowned for their agility and inquisitive nature, minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) captivate with their smaller size compared to other baleen whales. These graceful creatures embark on deep dives, skillfully hunting for their preferred prey, including fish and krill.
The sighting of the minke whale stands as a testament to the effectiveness of the team’s research methodologies and their unwavering dedication. Moreover, it serves as a beacon of hope for future discoveries that can contribute to the ongoing conservation endeavors in the Cardigan Bay SAC.
As Sea Watch celebrate this momentous milestone, they reaffirm their commitment to expanding our understanding of marine ecosystems and advocating for the protection of vulnerable species. The team extends our heartfelt gratitude to the local community, volunteers, and stakeholders whose unwavering support has made sightings like this possible.
About Sea Watch:
Sea Watch is a leading marine research organization dedicated to the study and conservation of marine mammals in the United Kingdom. Through scientific research, education, and advocacy, Sea Watch strives to protect and preserve our marine ecosystems for future generations.
For more information, please visit www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk.
Pictured: Minke whale sighting off Cardigan Bay by Katrin Lohrengel/Monitoring Officer at Sea Watch Foundation on 15 June 2023.
New year, new dive centre: Duttons to open on Anglesey in January 2023
Duttons Divers, who have recently announced a new hard boat to join their growing fleet over on the Llyn Peninsula based at Hafan Marina Dive Centre and a second dive centre that opened in January this year, have another big announcement to end the year on!
It seems that there’s just no stopping the Duttons Divers team as they announce their third dive centre opening – this time on Anglesey!
The dive centre will be open from January 2023, and is based just off the A55 at Llangefni Services, offering ease of access from all over the island and to those visiting for the day who will be passing by on their way to dive.
The centre will offer a fully stocked shop with all major brands, as well as a classroom and meeting place for teaching and briefings for the day’s guided dives around the island, equipment servicing and air fills – perfectly located to get your fills on your way too or from sites all over the island.
Owner Clare Dutton says: “We are extremely excited to announce the new centre. We have looked at Anglesey for a while, but the perfect place just did not come up until now. We wanted somewhere central that has easy access for divers to visit.”
If you would like to find out more about the new site, go to their website www.duttonsdivers.com