This year’s Hilda Canter-Lund competition for the best algal-themed photograph has been won by Zoe Loffler for her image “Symphony of Seaweeds” taken on a at low tide near Apollo Bay, Victoria, Australia, while on a family camping trip. She took the photo using a Google Nexus 5x Smartphone. Zoe grew up diving in temperate waters near Melbourne, Australia. She completed her undergraduate degree and PhD at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, studying the ecology of canopy-forming seaweeds (particularly Sargassum spp.) on coral reefs. She is now based in Sydney, and enjoys snorkelling and diving in temperate waters where there is such a wonderful diversity and abundance of seaweeds. The image meets Henri Cartier-Bresson’s maxim of the “decisive moment” (see “How to win the Hilda Canter-Lund prize”) and Zoe comments in her caption that the photo shows all who are unfamiliar with seaweeds that “they are not just brown and smelly!”.
Zoe Loffler: winner of the 2018 Hilda Canter-Lund prize for algal photography, for her image “Symphony of Seaweed”, shown at the top of the post.
Since 2016 we have also offered a second prize which is awarded to a photograph in a contrasting style to the overall winner. This year, that prize goes to Damien Sirjacobs of the University of Liege in Belgium for his image “Blue Haze”. This shows a bloom of benthic blue diatoms of the genus Haslea (H. ostrearia, H. provincialis) covering a community of macroalgae (Padina pavonica, Acetabularia acetabulum, Halopteris scoparia, Dictyota sp.) in the shallow water of Calvi Bay (Corsica, France). For scale, the circular caps on the end of the Acetabularia stalks are 5 – 10 mm in diameter. The image was taken at a depth of four metres in May 2018 with a LUMIX TZ10 in an underwater housing, under natural light conditions, while scuba-diving along rocky shores of the Revellatta peninsula (Calvi Bay).
Damien Sirjacobs’ image: Blue haze”.
There is a lot to interest readers of this blog in Damiens’s image; first of all, Acetabularia is another challenge to the generally-accepted view that multicellularity is the only option for large organisms. Although the plant is quite large and, unlike Vaucheria is more elaborate than a simple tube of cytoplasm (see “The pros and cons of cell walls …”) . The whole organism is, in fact, just one giant cell with a single nucleus.
The diatom Haslea that grows over Acetabularia and the other macroalgae in Damien’s picture creates a blue haze due to a pigment called “marennine” which is found in vacuoles inside the cells (as you can see in the photograph below). When marennine-containing species of Haslea are abundant around oyster beds (as is the case in parts of Brittany), then the pigment turns the gills of the oyster green and such oysters are highly sought after by gastronomes. Whether or not these oysters really taste better is debatable but marennine certainly does have some antimicrobial properties.
Damien Sirjacobs: co-winner of the 2019 Hilda Canter-Lund prize for algal photography.
Whilst Zoe’s image has direct visual appeal, and most people will recognise it almost straightaway as depicting seaweeds, Damien’s image has a more other-worldly quality. Unless you are familiar with the habitats and organisms, then it is difficult to interpret what is portrayed (see “Abstracting from reality …”). One of the challenges of photographing algae is that we are dealing with the real yet little understood aspects of biodiversity, creating a multi-layered problem: first, of capturing an impression of the organism(s) but, also, of interpreting the image to a lay-audience. In the case of Blue Haze we have that intriguing combination of beauty, mystery and economic relevance. That is what makes phycology such a fascinating subject.
Gastineau, R., Prasetiya, F.S., Falaise, C., Cognie, B., Decottignies, P., Morançais, M., Méléder, V., Davidovich, N., Turcotte, F., Tremblay, R., Pasetto, P., Dittmer, J., Bardeau, J.-F., Pouvreau, J.-B. & Mouget, J.-B. (2018). Marennine-like pigments: blue diatom or green oyster cult? pp. 529-551. In: Blue Biotechnology: Production and Use of Marine Molecules (edited by Stéphane La Barre and Stephen S. Bates). Wiley VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA