Nudi GB
Diver|September 2017
When you get your eye in you realise that colourful sea-slugs are not confined to the tropics – southeastern Scotland, for example, can also be a happy hunting-ground for macro enthusiasts. RICHARD ASPINALL drops into the Scottish Nudibranch Festival
Richard Aspinall

WHAT AN AMAZING SITE! ”I enthused to Jim the skipper, as he helped me off with my fins. He laughed. “Most people say: ‘Why did you bother with that one? It’s just seaweed and nothing to see!’”

I sat back on the bench and released my BC straps, eager to have a look at the back of my camera to see if I’d captured anything of value.

In and among the usual out-of-focus images in the viewfinder, there were a few that made me happy. Jim Anderson had been right – this was one of the best nudibranch sites in Scotland.

We had left Eye mouth that morning, past the grey seals that spend their days posing for the tourists, and out onto the wonderfully calm sea.

We had headed north, up the coast to St Abb’s Head, that massive bulwark of rock that, as it falls away into the North Sea, becomes a complicated series of pinnacles and gullies.

As I was deleting images, a few more divers were returning. “Did you see how many Acanthodoris pilosa there were?” asked one. Within minutes of taking off their gear, the experts were comparing notes, and I was lost.

I’d have been disappointed if it had been any other way. We were halfway through a series of dives as part of the Scottish Nudibranch Festival, and I would be learning a great deal.

While I was at the happy-to-see-a colourful-one stage, I was glad there were folk around who could tell me exactly what it was that I was photographing.

I’m a long way from being a nudibranch obsessive, but I can see why they are such a source of interest.

NUDIBRANCHS ARE among the most colourful animals in the oceans. There is nothing quite like them, apart from flatworms perhaps, which confuse many of us eager-to-learn nudi newbies.

Maybe it’s their rhinophores, the sensory organs at the “head end” that lend them a cuteness factor, as well as their slow-moving, easy-to-photograph nature. Maybe it’s simply that they are so different to animals on land, reminding us of just how remarkable the underwater world is compared to our mundane lives above the surface.

I’m not sure, but I can entirely understand how, with a macro lens fitted to a camera, a dive that some might find dull (not a hint of a wreck, and only to 10m) can become special.

For me, there is something magical about my torch-light falling across a beautifully coloured gem amid the murk and cold of typical UK dive-sites.

On the face of it, the waters off Scotland’s south-east coast might not be the first place you’d think of to host a nudibranch festival. Tropical destinations come more easily to mind, Anilao and Lembeh being just two.

You’d be wrong, however, because UK seas teem with life and with nudibranchs. You just might not have noticed them.

Over a coffee and some home-baked cake, we enjoyed the summer sun and the almost flat-calm seas. I have done only a handful of dive-trips in this part of the world, and each time I’ve found myself thinking back to conversations with folk on live aboards who swore that they wouldn’t dive “back home”.

A small pod of dolphins swam past, heading south, and the skies were full of seabirds: fulmars, guillemots and kittiwakes. So much life. Admittedly, a summer storm can ruin your plans, but when the conditions are good this is world-class diving on the doorstep.

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