Enter the ocean and you are likely to be swimming among thousands of tiny creatures —larvae of fish, octopus, sea urchins, crustaceans—newly hatched and on their way to maturing into adults. Along with plants and other organisms, these beings form the base of the marine food chain, giving and sustaining life.
Photographer Ryo Minemizu has spent 20 years diving off the coast of Japan, perfecting a proprietary technique for revealing the intricate beauty of these creatures. His series of images, The Secret World of Plankton, recently won him the Nikkei National Geographic Photo Prize.
Visually translating this secret world from something barely visible to the naked eye to vivid, colorful portraits is an exercise in patience. At sunset after a high tide, Minemizu and his team set up 30 color-rendering LED lights on tripods on the sea floor near the breeding grounds of migratory larval fish. He then waits for hours at a time while the lights attract the organisms and then depending on the size, uses either a macro or wide-angle lens to photograph them. The average size of the larvae is 1-4 centimeters, he estimates, with some as tiny as 2 millimeters.
"I am surprised by the new discoveries I encounter every time I dive," he wrote via email. "I am also amazed at how these tiny creatures are able to adapt to often challenging conditions. They look so frail yet they are able to develop the means to protect themselves from predators by becoming transparent, developing protective 'armour' such as banner-like fins. I admire their struggle to survive."
Minezimu's hopes that his photographs will spark an interest in marine life, and the importance of protecting it. "I want to share these revelations about the beauty of our world under the sea with as many people as possible."