Marine photographer plans 3 year expedition to study little known sea creatures

Alexander Semenov is a marine biologist who may be known best for his incredible undersea photography. Much more than a photographer, Semenov is the head diver for Moscow University’s White Sea Biological Station in northeast Russia.

Semenov and his team are planning an ambitious three-year research trip, the Aquatilis expedition, which will take them around the world. This underwater odyssey’s goal is to study gelatinous zooplankton, also called gelata. These soft-bodied organisms are poorly understood, and according to Semenov 80 percent of gelata species are still unidentified.

“Gelata is one of the least studied groups in the world ocean and even known species are poorly described,” Semenov told TreeHugger. “We’ll try to document every possible moment of their lifecycle and collect as much data for future analysis as we can.”

© Aquatilis

Common types of gelata include jellyfish, medusa, and ctenophores. Many species of gelata are tiny, like the Limacina helicina (pictured above) that reaches just 1 centimeter in length. The team may even have the opportunity to photograph and describe previously unknown species. "You never know what you can find," said Semenov. They also hope to contribute to the understanding of these creatures' role in the ocean ecosystem.

Semenov said they’re planning to set sail in late 2015, starting in the Mediterranean sea when plankton diversity is at a maximum. The team will use the intervening time to prepare and equip their vessel. They plan to leave from Marmaris, Turkey and plotted a route that travels across the Atlantic, follows the contours of South American, then heads north to the Pacific and on to the shores of Africa.

© Aquatilis

Along the way, they also plan to study creatures in several different trash vortexes. “We want to impress people with some “strong” pictures and videos,” Semenov told me. He hopes to raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution. He said that even if a dozen kids don’t use plastic water bottles or leave trash on the beach because of the Aquatilis team's work, “we’re doing it right.”

The research may serve other conservation efforts as well. “We need to fill the spaces in our fundamental knowledge, without it we can’t predict or analyze future changes or things we see right now,” he said. “Extensive study of the whole world ocean, from the smallest larvae to the currents and global processes, will give us an opportunity to safeguard it in the future.”

For those of us back on land, the most exciting aspect of the expedition is that Semenov and his team plan to document their findings for a general audience in addition to collecting research data. The crew plans to publish a video blog of their journey. At the end of the trip, they hope to produce a documentary about their findings.

You can learn more about the expedition and donate to their crowd funding campaign at the very cool Aquatilis website.

Tags: Oceans