At 300 feet beneath the surface, the ocean is dark. There are no
landmarks around, you are suspended. Look hard enough and they appear:
translucent creatures filled with colour. Some are as tiny as the nail on your
finger, others are the size of a building. These are gelata - unstudied, mysterious and omnipresent. They are the ocean's unseen backbone.
Dreaming is uniquely human.
Our aspirations transport us from that which exists already into the realm of possibilities. All scientific discoveries
start as dreams seasoned with curiosity. Countless creatures fill our oceans,
they beg to be discovered,
studied and shown.
We are simple guys who are ready to embark on an adventure that will take
us around the world. We share a few important things between us: we know what we're doing, we haven't forgotten how to dream, we are full of wonder and love. Above all, we love the Ocean.
We want to discover it.
Science is not only about lab coats and
lectures. Media allows us to make anyone
a scholar and put them right in the midst of
engaging scientific action. The science we
take part in is zestful and adventurous.
At its core, it has young, passionate and
professional individuals, whose commitment
to their goals leads them to amazing discoveries and breath-taking sights.
We'll show all this and we'll share it.
Gelata are soft-bodied organisms carried by the currents. Their alien beauty mesmerises us, their lives fascinate us. They float through waves: fragile, iridescent, beautiful. Gelata are also a key component within oceanic ecosystems. They are also unique in how little we know about them.
Expedition leader, marine biologist, underwater photographer and
Born adventurers, explorers and mavens from all walks of life.
A powerful and beautiful custom machine, fit to be our home in any ocean.
Our journey will cover over 30,000 miles. Our travels will take us on a winding trail through three oceans, bypassing usual diving locations.
We will venture to places usually left untouched, those that lie beyond the routes well-travelled and we'll seek all the wonders they have to offer.
As humans, we are naturally attracted to the exploration of our world. Our curiosity leads us to explore the most remote parts of the Earth, from the top of Mount Everest to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. We are drawn to novelty. In childhood, many of us were fascinated by the travels of Jacques-Yves Cousteau who showed us, landlocked, the depths of the sea, by the underwater mysteries uncovered by Robert Ballard, or else by the exploits of Sir David Attenborough, whose calm poise helped us witness extraordinary inhabitants of the Earth.
The desire for a life less ordinary is what drives humanity forward. Today, we live in a world built from yesterday’s dreams. Neil deGrasse Tyson said that “the atoms of our bodies are traceable to the stars that manufactured them in their cores”. We say that each scientific advance can be traced to those who first pushed their minds to beat the fabric of the ordinary. We live in a world full of wonders and outlandish possibilities: we create bone implants using 3D printers, monitor distant planets using remotely-operated rovers, we can overcome the speed of sound. Some of us carry smartphones which surpass in prowess the best computers of only a few decades ago.
Ours is a time of progress, of wonder, of exploration and understanding. We’re here to step up to the plate.
71% of our planet's surface is water, yet we know more about the Moon’s surface than about our own oceans. Diving in deep water requires preparation and safety comparable to that of a spacewalk. Humans are not built for deep-sea exploration, we are a land species. Yet, thanks to the dreamers before us, we have all the equipment necessary to explore our waters. Sadly, since the times of Cousteau and his team, there have hardly been any efforts to build a comprehensive overview of the oceans that surround our inhabited lands.
According to some of the most cautious estimates, out of all the creatures inhabiting the world’s oceans, only about 20% have been discovered.
A colossal amount of the species we have discovered have not been studied intricately. The world’s oceans themselves are a great mystery. Various streams and tides within the Earth’s waters interact in phenomenal ways to produce ecosystems of greater breadth and diversity than many of those found on land.
We dream of a world where everyone has access to the wonders of underwater life. We dream of bringing leading scientists as close as possible to the subjects of their studies. We dream of understanding whole unknown ecosystems to prepare for the future and safeguard it. And, quite simply, we want to make the world’s beauty shine a little brighter for all.
Aquatilis Expedition is an unprecedented interdisciplinary journey through the world’s oceans. Over the three years that we spend circumnavigating the Earth, we will venture through uncharted waters, studying mysterious life-forms. Exploration and science lie at the core of our mission. Its fuel is the passion and professionalism of our stellar team. Its tools are ultra-contemporary and custom-built for our unique purposes.
Every scientific mission needs a focal point, an ultimate question it seeks to answer. We have drawn our purpose from wonder and awe. We intend to make Aquatilis Expedition a world-first global exploration of gelatinous plankton (or gelata, as we prefer to call these creatures). These soft-bodied organisms that float through the waves are identified by leading contemporary marine scientists as a significant research interest in biology. Very little is known about them. Gelata are difficult to study in laboratories, since collecting them is a challenging task.
Their bodies are so fragile that they break upon contact with harvesting equipment. It is surprising and inspiring to us that such a significant plain of human knowledge remains untapped. We live in a world where detailed maps of the Moon exist and scientists can grow a human bladder in vitro, yet a large number of gelata remain either unknown to science, or understudied. What is known about them, however, is that they are extremely important to the health of our oceans and to the Earth’s environment as a whole. Aquatilis Expedition will give a huge boost to our understanding of gelata and will try its best to answer innumerable questions about the various species and their lives.
Since our curiosity is insatiable, our journey to study gelata will lead us through a multitude of other scientific topics. The duration and scope of our travels will give us ample time to touch upon many “firsts”. We will be the first sizable expedition to use blue water diving as a main research technique.
Three years is a long enough to perfect this methodology for future scientific use. We will be the first expedition to extensively photograph “trash islands” in the world’s oceans. These formations are huge gatherings of rubbish, some larger than Spain or Germany. Little is known about their composition and their assimilation processes are poorly understood. We believe that photographs of these islands of filth and of the life upon them will have a tremendous impact on how pollution is understood and tackled. We will be the first-ever traveling scientific squad to collaborate with a vast array of scientists all over the world. Using our connections with the world’s leading marine research institutes, we will assist with numerous pressing projects which could benefit from our skill set.
We will also fully harness the power of multimedia broadcasting to bring our research to life. Our expedition will involve the unique combination of interactive educational tools and engaging real-time communication. We are constantly surprised by the sheer amount of beauty and knowledge our oceans contain. This invaluable treasure is almost inaccessible for most, but we believe that it belongs to the world and should be shared globally. Luckily, we live in a world where effective communication is easier than ever before. We will use all possible media outlets and our outstanding skills as photographers, videographers and communicators to engage a wide audience into our scientific exploits.
We will show the world what the contemporary scientist can look like: a young, passionate and professional individual, whose commitment leads to amazing discoveries and breath-taking sights. Through engaged use of social media, we aim to build an interactive and engaged community of learning. The colourful photos and videos we show will not only demonstrate the oceans’ aesthetic beauty, but will also educate people about the fragility and diversity of our world. Our discoveries will be published online as they are made. Those following us will experience complete immersion into the contemporary scientific world.
We’re not alone either. Our project is supported by leading marine scientists and gelata experts all over the world. William Hamner, Steven Haddock, Casey Dunn and André C. Morandini are among the scientific giants whose shoulders we’re honoured to stand on. Our team has been researching sea creatures and taking great pictures of them for several years. We’ve also been sharing our findings with people through media.
We are proud that our work attracts leading media outlets from all over the world, such as: The BBC, National Geographic Russia, Time Magazine, Wired Magazine, The Daily Mail, CNN, as well as an array of smaller media outlets. You too can follow our exploits and see for yourself some amazing scientific history in the making.
“Plankton” is broadly defined as a type of creature which cannot resist the current. These organisms can move within water, yet they drift wherever the currents carry them. They range from viruses and microscopic single-cell organisms, to larger crustaceans and giant jellyfish. Plankton forms the basis of the oceans’ ecosystems since they are the primary food for all other creatures. Many of them act as “cleaners” within the waters, but others are dangerous predators. “Zooplankton” simply means animals rather than plants belonging to the broader “plankton” category.
Our studies will focus on a subcategory of these species: gelatinous zooplankton (or gelata). Their unifying characteristic is a soft and extremely fragile jelly-like body. The most obvious example of gelata is the jellyfish. However, gelata are an extremely diverse and poorly understood group of animals, their lifecycle is riddled with misconceptions. They range from small and dangerous mauve stinger (Pelagia noctiluca) nascent to the Mediterranean, to gigantic and deadly siphonophores, whose size can reach up to 100 feet (that’s the size of a 9 story building).
Creatures that do not necessarily belong to the gelata group throughout their lives can go through a gelatinous stage. Starfish, crustaceans and sea worms, among others, go through a gelata stage early in their lifecycle, but grow into other types of animals afterwards.
Gelata are one of the least understood animal groups inhabiting the world. The information that we have about them comes from disparate studies of limited locations around the globe. Study samples are gathered mainly with tow nets which destroy the creatures’ delicate bodies. The animals’ deconstructed gelatinous pieces let us identify the species on a genetic level, but give no information on how they live or how they interact amongst themselves and with the world surrounding them. We often can’t even tell what they look like. Although highly-focused studies of various gelata are regularly carried out, a comprehensive study of these organisms has never been conducted.
What we know about gelata, however, shows how important studying them is. It has been noted that as fish populations decrease in certain areas (due to overfishing or environmental factors), gelata swarm the waters. They then prevent fish repopulation by feeding on organic substances that serve as fish food and even on young fish themselves. Studying this process more closely could answer numerous questions about our oceans’ ecosystems. Gelata’s impact on humanity stretch far out of the ocean though. On a broader scientific level, the study of gelata could have unexpected and truly fabulous results. For example, studying the Aequorea victoria jellyfish gave scientists access to green fluorescent protein (GFP), which set off a true revolution in molecular biology and medicine. This discovery allowed scientists to create harmless fluorescent markers for individual genes, a tool which can be used for a variety of diagnostic and research purposes. In 2008, Martin Chalfie, Osamu Shimomura, and Roger Y. Tsien were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on GFP. All this from one jellyfish! Just imagine the discoveries that can be made from studying thousands of them!
Analysing the place of gelata among other living organisms will be a giant leap towards a greater understanding of how our ecosystems work. As the Aequorea victoria example shows, it is difficult to predict exactly how deep the impact of each new discovery will be. Our paths through the world’s waters, the techniques we use throughout our journey and the support of world-renowned experts will give us unprecedented opportunities to shed light on the mysterious area of science that gelata form.
Our expedition is split into ten stages. It includes long passages through oceans and extensive diving in all the regions we will cover. We will start our journey in Marmaris, Turkey where our yacht is currently stationed.
During the mission’s first leg through the Mediterranean, we will show you some unexpected sights from this generally well-known area. This part of the journey will also allow us to check that everything is in order for our subsequent travels. After this, each stage will last 2 to 5 months, and will include rigorous diving, filming and on-board research.
We will take short breaks for rest and maintenance in-between. By the end of the first part, we will have reached the Canary Islands. We will then cross the Atlantic Ocean with lengthy exploratory stops at the Ozores, Argentina and Brazil along the way. We will round Cape Horn, which is still considered one of the greatest sailing endeavours. We will then proceed along the coast of Chile, rounding up a multitude of unexplored diving locations, and stop briefly in the San Francisco Bay area. From there, our long journey through the Pacific Ocean will begin. We will sail by the Great Pacific Trash Island, studying the strange life-forms it contains and dive across a range of locations which have never been explored before.
We will be closely examining the regions of Oceania and Indonesia, which are scarcely studied and are busting with biodiversity. We will call at a multitude of cities around the world during our journey and will organise various event throughout its duration. Keep an eye out - we’ll probably stop by a port near you!
Constructing a route for a three-year long exploratory expedition, especially one that is bold enough to dive into the unknown, is no easy task. To study a particular animal on land, you have to draw up a detailed map of locations where the animal has been encountered before. This way, the space in which a new encounter is potentially possible will be charted. Such a task becomes vastly more complex when you are at sea. Here, the spaces in which various species reside are not defined by landmasses, but rather by currents, temperature, salinity and a multitude of other factors. Life within the ocean is dispersed throughout its volume, the surface-dwellers being very different to those who reside deeper down. All of this means that spaces for potential encounters are not immediately obvious. This also means that a particular species may be sparsely spread over a very large stretch of the ocean, or else can be found only in one particular hidden enclave.
When you head out to specifically discover the undiscovered, you have to be mindful in constructing a well-defined area of the unknown. This keeps your findings focused and precise. In order to have maximum certainty that we will discover new creatures and effectively study those that are already known, our route has to account for the intricacies of marine science. We have to carefully revise all the up-to-date material on places where understudied gelata have been encountered. We then have to superimpose this information onto studies that account for the effects of currents, water salinity, temperature, seasonality and other oceanic conditions on the location of these creatures. Put together, these variables will give us the best possible route.
As we will be drawing closer to the start of our journey, we will determine the specific locations it entails. We are co-operating with leading marine scientists all over the world and conducting our own research in order to refine our route. All the details of the expedition that will emerge during the preparatory stage will, of course, be covered in our blog. For now, we have fully defined the first leg of our journey – the sail through the Mediterranean. These waters are well-known and accessible. However, gelata have not been studied within them specifically, especially not in the scope we intend to do it.
You can read our blog post on the sail through the Mediterranean to see exactly what kind of forethought goes into constructing a route such as ours.
“Aquatilis” is our yacht and our home for the three-year journey. It was constructed in accordance to a special project, devised by our captain. He envisioned the yacht to be a self-sufficient expedition vessel, equipped for long-term navigation through oceans, both rough and calm. The yacht measures 70 feet from bow to stern and is fit to carry 8 to 16 people at a time. “Aquatilis” is currently stationed in Marmaris, Turkey and is awaiting a whole array of activities.
Our yacht has been confined to dry land for over three years - an unpardonable length of time for a sea-bound vessel. This means our future home is in disrepair, which is unacceptable. We will need to breathe new life into “Aquatilis”. After building a workshop around the yacht, we’ll take her apart, bolt by bolt, to lovingly put back together.
Elite cars are carefully constructed manually, our future home requires similar patience and care. Some things we’ll do include: sandblasting the hull, giving it a base coat and covering it in super-modern waterproof paintwork; dismantling and replacing the mast; taking out the “guts” (wiring, piping, etc.) and switching them to the most modern counterparts; refitting the living quarters for the team’s safety and comfort.
General repairs will leave us with a modern and sturdy expedition vessel, but without state-of-the-art additions it won’t be fit for a unique mission such as ours. Our around-the-world trip will include a multitude of intricate activities which require very specific equipment.
Although she already is a purpose-built expedition vessel, adapting her to our needs will allow us to do more efficient work and tackle even the most elaborate tasks that the ocean throws at us. Here are some of the things we plan to do: installing the best available mechanical and electronic equipment, such as hydraulic steering, electric sail motors; a deck crane to lift heavy equipment, such as motors, nets and bathometers; up the best navigation and communication devices, including satellite internet; structurally changing the yacht to suit our needs by lengthening the hull to fit diving equipment.
We’re not merely diving, researching and broadcasting here. We’re at the forefront. So here we come to the really cool stuff. “Aquatilis” will house an array of hi-tech devices fit for a sci-fi film: a remotely-operated underwater robot will have its own station on board; our diving team will need a decompression chamber (to be used in the unlikely case of emergency); the hands-on broadcasting will require a data centre and a 4K video editing space; the research we partake in will involve the use of an acoustic sensor to track planktonic groups at various depths, and a device to analyse the chemical composition of water, among other things. All this stellar technology will need to be packed into the limited space we have.
These procedures will transform an already remarkable vessel into an extraordinary machine. “Aquatilis” will be a true 21st century “Calypso”, almost magical in its capacity. We can’t wait to board her.
We are firm believers that science should not be restricted to labs. It has the potential to empower, amaze and teach. Today, we have unprecedented opportunities to spread these ideals almost as far and wide as they can go. Satellites make communication accessible from the most remote parts of the ocean. We will harness this potential to make our journey into a spectacular experience for everyone.
The waters we will cross are astoundingly beautiful. How appropriate then that our photographic skills are up to par to capture all their glory. We have the ability to show everyone the true colours of unseen places and hidden marine creatures. These images of the wondrous and the weird will inspire and teach. Throughout our expeditions, we will extensively publish high-resolution photographs which will leave the world agape. Those following our journey will be fully submerged into the world of life-forms we explore. We will pair each photo with an insightful description which will contain all that is necessary to understand the creature it depicts.
We will include information such as the creature’s size, the place where we encountered it, the depth at which it resides and any other facts we deem interesting and useful enough to share. Our photos will also help scientists and students all over the world. We live in a world where photographs of Mars are readily available, yet biology students sometimes still have to turn to drawings made by the pioneers of marine science over a century ago. Being scientists ourselves, we know exactly what our colleagues need for their research. But our love for beauty will turn gelata into an awesome sight for all.
Our research will cover a swarm of information which is both engaging and little-known. In addition to our reports, we will produce video-blogs which will lift the veil from marine science. The first leg of our journey through the charted waters of the Mediterranean will give us a great opportunity to introduce the world to the basics of the science we partake in. In the subsequent episodes, we will ground our work on the yacht into a robust scientific context.
We will explain aquatic life and its world in an illustrated, nugget-sized way. Those who will follow us until the end will have a comprehensive understanding of the vastness and complexity of the World Ocean.
By the end of our journey, we will have amassed hundreds of hours of unique footage made by our skilled videographers and remotely-operated underwater robot.
We will have videos of rare and even unknown creatures, we will have shot unknown locations and documented the life and times of our team. Put together, this material will be regenerated into a documentary film. It will be an incredible sight and story, the entirety of which is practically unimaginable.
We will call in ports all over the world over the three years we will spend at sea. Since we have connections with numerous public and scientific institutions world-wide, we will be able to organize a series of public lectures. We firmly stand by the fact that the best discoveries are those we share. Therefore, we will make sure to personally engage as many people we can in our journey.
Our team will provide hands-on workshops, seminars and lectures which will form an active and connected world-wide Aquatilis community.
Our journey will be filled with challenges – big and small, personal and professional. The work scientists conduct in open seas is very different to anything done on land. The closed quarters we will live in, the challenging conditions and the cutting-edge technologies we will use are somewhat reminiscent of space exploration. We have the ability to package all our experiences and discoveries into unique, interactive content. Throughout our journey, you will be able to witness how scientific discoveries are made, right as they are made. We will share footage made underwater by ourselves and our custom-built robot. You will see us cross the most difficult stretches of sea and demonstrate navigational rigour.
We will use all the resources that contemporary communication technology has to offer to construct a series of unique multi-media reports. You will see exactly what happens. Never before has science been so close to you, the people it ultimately exists for.
Alex’s experienced fascination with underwater life has helped him dream up Aquatilis Expedition. His ability to ground his dreams and turn them into successful projects has inspired a team of professional heavy-weights to join him.
Alex currently works as the Head of the Divers’ team at Moscow University’s White Sea Biological Station, spending his time between Russia’s Far North, Moscow and any other location he deems fit for diving. He is used to diving in unfavourable and often harsh conditions, successfully conducting complex research projects.
His unique talent to see beauty in the darkness underwater has led to multiple collaborations with the Discovery Channel, the BBC, National Geographic and many more. He’s the author of the pictures you see around here. You can have a look at his publications in TIME Magazine, Wired and This Is Colossal. You can see more of his photos on Flickr. Alex’s secret wish is to grow gills so that he doesn’t have to leave the water and perform cumbersome tasks, such as changing oxygen tanks.
Some awesome things he’s done in the past include: organizing professional workshops all over the world, leading a crowdfunding campaign to renovate the diving center at the White Sea Biological Station, giving talks to all sorts of audiences, ranging from pre-school children to university deans and even country presidents, providing expert scientific and photographic advice at competitions all over the world. Several species and aspects of their behaviour were first identified and photographed by Alex. In short, he’s a pretty cool guy.
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Our expedition stands on three pillars: science, adventure and beauty. The team we have built possesses a range of niche skills, perfectly fit for a quest of such scope and complexity. The vast array of tasks at hand means that our team needs to be made of real superheroes, no less. It hasn’t been an easy undertaking, but we have found them: highly qualified and variously seasoned individuals, all of them with a youthful glimmer in their eyes and a thirst for the unknown. In addition to their outstanding professional achievements, each member of the team is an expert diver. All of them have hands-on sailing knowledge and are set on perfecting their skills before our journey’s start. These people are like Swiss Army knives, performing an assortment of difficult and often disparate functions. Here are some types of people you will encounter in Team Aquatilis:
Our scientific prowess, as a team, is undisputable. Graduates from the Moscow State University make up the backbone of our scientific team. They’re not just any graduates though. Among them, they have assembled a vast array of publications and have collaborated with top research institutes all over the world. Each scientist on the team cites gelata as one of their primary research interests, while maintaining a firm grounding in biology and oceanography. In short, their hands are firmly on the pulse of contemporary marine biology.
It’s important that someone has your back when you’re a dangerous mission into the unknown. When most of us were learning important life skills, such as holding a spoon and saying “thank you”, members of our rescue squad were already taking part in dangerous missions to the North Pole, where they were diving in icy waters straight after an air drop. These guys are made of steel. Their career has led them to the most inhospitable parts of the world, from the polar caps to mountain tops and the hearts of deserts. They’ve assisted in rescue operations in difficult situations all over the world. We really hope that we won’t need their help, but if we do, there are no safer hands to be in.
The subject of our quest is unique in its beauty; its story is simply unprecedented. The people we have on board to capture these two aspects of our mission are no strangers to operating on two different planes of visual information. Our photographers and videographers have won multiple awards for their skills. They have filmed award-winning feature films and shot images for the world’s leading media outlets. They have a classical understanding of beauty and an intricate knowledge of the most contemporary technologies. They will transform the amazement of our discoveries and the minute details of our daily lives into inspiring visual content.
There are, of course, those who don’t fit into any of the above categories, for example, our underwater robotics expert. We’ll introduce you to each permanent member of Team Aquatilis in due course – make sure to check out our blog for updates.
The expedition is extremely important simply be-cause it’s a great example of how you can turn dreams into reality. It shows that anyone can have the strength to make their dreams come true. Somebody wise said once: “be realistic - demand the impossible”.
I’m the only non-biologist on the team and I learn something new every day: starfish have eyes, siphonophores can be up to 40 meters long and some jellyfish don’t age! The undersea world is fascinating, I’m so happy that I have the opportu-nity to discover it for myself and share my discov-eries with thousands of people.
Gelata are an entire world: vast, very beautiful and barely studied. I can hardly wait to completely dive into it, find new species and share their beauty with the entire planet! And, of course, I can’t wait to fulfil my long-lasting dream of sailing far away!
I am unbelievably happy to be part of the
“Aquatilis” team! I really hope to make a modest contribution to making this unique expedition a reality.
When you study nature, I think it’s really important to remember that life is extremely complex, sur-prisingly diverse, but, above all, extraordinarily beautiful.
I study our Earth from space using satellite images. I love diving and filming the mysterious processes that take place underwater. I know that all this is needed to reach our goal, that’s why I’m joining the expedition!
It’s great to see that even the boldest and apparently impossible childhood dreams can come true. It’s even better when this happens in the company of extraordinary people united by a beautiful and noble cause.
Like for many others, this expedition is a dream come true for me! As a planktonologist, I am confident that our expedition will not only broaden the horizons of scientific knowledge about this mysterious group of creatures, but will also tell about it in an accessible way. Plankton for everyone!
I’ve always wanted to combine my work and my hobbies. I hope that I’ll have a nice rest while working hard during expedition “Aquatilis”. Although, it would be better for all if I had little to do in terms of my main profession. I hope I won’t have much to do as a doctor and will be useful in other fields.
We’re incredibly proud that some awesome people and organizations
support Aquatilis Expedition. Thank you so much!
If you would like to support us, we would love to have you on board.
Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.