Marine microscopy weekend

Friday 19th to Monday 22nd May 2017

By Carel Sartory

Dale Fort from the seaDale Fort from the sea [by John Tolliday]

We had another very enjoyable and interesting marine microscopy weekend at the Dale Fort Field Centre in Pembrokeshire this year; the number of microscopists who want to attend this meeting grows every year and although we crammed 24 people into the laboratory, sadly a number of people were disappointed that they could not come.

Unusually the weather was kind to us and the sun shone for most of the weekend, which makes field trips so much more enjoyable.

The weekend took its usual format with most delegates setting up on Friday afternoon, plankton collecting on Saturday morning and a visit to the Gann lagoon and salt marsh on Sunday morning.

On Saturday evening, after dinner, Wim van Egmond showed us some of his wonderful images and time-lapse videos and gave an interesting and informative talk about how he produced them.

Wim van Egmond showing us some of his wonderful images and time-lapse videosWim van Egmond showing us some of his wonderful images and time-lapse videos

On Sunday evening we had our usual informal and occasionally irreverent review of the images taken by attendees over the weekend.

It is interesting to note how the equipment that delegates bring changes over the years; for instance Tessovars, abundant a few years ago were conspicuous by their total absence. The new popular instrument, and there were seven being used, is a 14 Megapixel HDMI camera/video recorder attached to a macroscopic zoom lens mounted on a variety of DIY stands. These instruments have both HDMI and USB outputs to ether a computer or a high resolution monitor and produce remarkably good images.

14 Megapixel HDMI camera/video recorder attached to a macroscopic zoom lens14 Megapixel HDMI camera/video recorder attached to a macroscopic zoom lens

Another device that I was unfamiliar with, until I read John Tolliday’s article “Travel Kit” in the April 2017 Bulletin, is the Olympus ‘Tough Camera’. These semi-waterproof cameras have a fixed lens with a “microscope mode” and built in image stacking. Four were in evidence and were used successfully to take pictures of 4 mm long beetles on the Gann salt marsh.

Julian Cremona imaging marine beetlesJulian Cremona imaging marine beetles (Bledius spp.)

Wim van Egmond imaging marine beetlesWim van Egmond imaging marine beetles (Bledius spp.)

There was the usual assortment of more conventional microscopes, both old and new, many with interesting modifications designed by their owners; I always find these very interesting and return home with new ideas to try. A novelty this year was the number of fluorescence instruments being used.

In the lab: Julian Cremona, Andy Beveridge and Joan BingleyIn the lab: Julian Cremona, Andy Beveridge and Joan Bingley

In the lab: Chris Adams and Geoff PhillipsIn the lab: Chris Adams and Geoff Phillips [by Mike Gibson]

Grenham Ireland, John Tolliday and Wim van EgmondIn the lab: Grenham Ireland, John Tolliday and Wim van Egmond

Microscopes and camerasMicroscopes and cameras

Soon the buzz of conversation quietened as delegates examined, imaged and preserved the plankton or went, in small groups, to collect shore based organisms.

The usual hardy souls went out on the RIB to collect plankton, however the weather was so clement that no one got soaked or fell in!

Off to collect planktonOff to collect plankton [by Mike Gibson]

Wim’s Talk on Saturday evening was based on the marine subjects he has filmed over several years and he explained some of his techniques as well as showing us some spectacular images and video. I thank Ray Sloss for videoing the lecture which will in due course be available for all to see.

One of Wim’s techniques for filming live subjects is to use four small beads of Vaseline on the corners of a square coverslip to make a very simple and versatile live-cell. A drop of liquid containing the specimen is applied to a clean slide and the coverslip added, the Vaseline blobs providing support. Gentle pressure on the coverslip reduces the spacing between the cover and the slide and a spatula of tweezers can be inserted between the cover and the slip to increase it. The free surfaces of the water drop allow oxygenation and more liquid can be added with a fine pipette to counter evaporation.

With this equipment he keeps organisms alive for extended periods for his time-lapse filming. He gave me a lesson in making these on Monday afternoon and my Victorian live-boxes and compressoria are now consigned to my collection of vintage equipment!

The Sunday morning trip to the Gann provided another novelty. Julian Cremona brought along his Drone equipped with a high resolution camera. With this he took some remarkable footage of both the salt marsh and the strange assortment of microscopists roaming it!

Group setting off to explore the GannGroup setting off to explore the Gann [by Jeremy Poole]

Drone taking offDrone taking off

Exploring the Gann salt marshExploring the Gann salt marsh [by Julian Cremona]

Collecting on the Gann salt marshCollecting on the Gann salt marsh [by Julian Cremona]

There were several salt marsh insects to be caught and examined and the stars, as usual, were the marine beetles, Bledius spectabilis and B. unicornis. Tim Newton, who some claim has “an inordinate fondness for beetles” was in his element; his grin stretched from ear to ear and he spent the afternoon in a cloud of ethyl acetate vapour preserving and mounting his catch (and giving master classes in how to do so).

Much more field photography was undertaken than on previous years and it was interesting to see the different approaches taken; from huge lenses and large tripods to lying in the mud with a ‘tough’ a few centimetres away from the subject!

As usual the evening review contained some spectacular images, and for the first time a time-lapse video, filmed by Sinclair Stammers. More delegates than usual provided images and I was especially impressed by Ray Sloss’s fluorescence image of an Obelia medusa and Wim’s darkground image of a larval echinoderm. There were several other excellent images together with some time-lapse videos.


Birth of a sea anemone (Bunodactis verrucosa) [by Wim van Egmond, 50× time-lapse]
Click the arrow to start the video, click the symbol to the left of “vimeo” for a larger version


Evadne nordmanni, a marine cladoceran [by John Tolliday, Rheinberg illumination]
Click the arrow to start the video, click the symbol to the left of “vimeo” for a larger version

All in all it was an excellent meeting. After twelve years I feel that it is time that I handed over the organisation to fresh hands and I am delighted that Geoff Phillips and Chris Adams have volunteered to take on the task and run two meetings in 2018 so that all who wish to attend can do so.

Report and photographs by Carel Sartory (except where indicated)

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Some of the things we found

Polychaete larva in its transparent tubePolychaete larva in its transparent tube [by Julian Cremona]

Thalassiosira rotulaThalassiosira rotula [by Jeremy Poole]

Obelia medusaObelia medusa [fluorescence image by Ray Sloss]

Echinoderm larvaEchinoderm larva [by Wim van Egmond]

Polychaete larvaPolychaete larva [by Andy Beveridge]

Evadne sp.Evadne nordmanni [by Wim van Egmond]

Bledius spectabilisBledius spectabilis [by Carel Sartory]

Scanning electron micrograph of Bledius spectabilisScanning electron micrograph of Bledius spectabilis [by Jeremy Poole]

Bledius spectabilis about to enter its burrowBledius spectabilis about to enter its burrow [by Wim van Egmond]

AmphipodAmphipod [by John Tolliday]

Bledius spectabilisBledius spectabilis Kratz [by John Tolliday]

BryozoanBryozoan [by John Tolliday]

Bunodactis sp.Bunodactis sp. [by John Tolliday]

ChitonChiton [by John Tolliday]

CrabCrab [by John Tolliday]

CrabCrab [by John Tolliday]

Meligethes sp.Meligethes sp. [by John Tolliday]

Sea anemoneSea anemone [by John Tolliday]

Sea anemoneSea anemone [by John Tolliday]

ShrimpShrimp [by John Tolliday]

SpongeSponge [by John Tolliday]

SpringtailSpringtail [by John Tolliday]

Tube wormTube worm [by John Tolliday]

Ulva intestinalisUlva intestinalis L. [by John Tolliday]

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