Amazing images reveal the hidden beauty and intelligence of Earth’s alien-like sea creatures.

  • Dutch photographer has published a photo collection of plankton – tiny organisms found in water and the air
  • Plantton is an acronym that means “errant” in Greek. It refers to the existence of Plankton within a drifting’ state.
  • Plankton cannot propel themselves against wind or currents like ‘Nekton’ fish and sharks.


New photos offer a fascinating glimpse into the unseen alien-like world of microscopic plankton – the diverse collection of tiny organisms found in water and the air. 

Jan van IJken is a Dutch photographer who has published his collection plankton imagery taken from Dutch puddles, lakes, and seas. It was part of the film and photography project ‘Planktonium. 

Plankton, a Greek term that refers to their existence is in a drifting condition’. They are incapable of propelling themselves against wind or current. 

It is similar to ‘Nekton,’ which means ‘to swim,’ and includes actively swimming organisms like fish, squids, octopus sharks, marine mammals, and squid.

Van IJken’s collection includes a wide variety of plankton, from copepods, water fleas, diatoms (single-celled algae), cyanobacteria and more. 

This image captured by Dutch photographer Jan van IJken as part of the Planktonium project shows a planktonic copepod with diatoms (algae) attached

This image captured by Dutch photographer Jan van IJken as part of the Planktonium project shows a planktonic copepod with diatoms (algae) attached

Pictured is Gloeotrichia, a large (around 2 mm) colonial genus of cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria a division of microorganisms that are related to the bacteria but are capable of photosynthesis

Gloeotrichia is a colonial genus that contains cyanobacteria. It measures approximately 2 mm in size. Cyanobacteria, a sub-division of microorganisms capable of photosynthesis and related to bacteria, is one division.

Van IJken’s website states that these stunningly beautiful and diverse organisms, which are virtually invisible to the naked eye are not known to us.

“But, they wander beneath all the waters surrounding us and are vitally important for all life on Earth. 

Plankton plays an essential role in oxygen production, aquatic food web development and carbon life cycle. 

Scientists estimate that 50% to 80 percent of Earth’s oxygen comes from the ocean according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This is mainly due to oceanic plankton. 

There are two main types of plankton – phytoplankton, which are plants, and zooplankton, which are animals. The ocean’s uppermost layers are where phytoplankton flourishes. They provide fish with a source of food and nutrient-rich shelter.

Pictured is echinoderm larva. An echinoderm is any member of the phylum Echinodermata of marine animals, characterised by a hard, spiny covering or skin

The echinoderm larva is shown in the picture. An echinoderm is any member of the phylum Echinodermata of marine animals, characterised by a hard, spiny covering or skin

Van IJken, however warns plankton that they are at risk from climate change and global warming as well as acidification of oceans. 

As well as many photos on the website, van IJken has created a short film of the plankton in motion that’s scored by Norwegian artist Jana Winderen. 

 Planktonium has been acquired by Museum De Lakenhal in the Dutch city of Leiden, where the film will be screened from January 22 as a part of Leiden European City of Science 2022.

Waterfleas carrying eggs. Waterfleas are called as such because their saltatory swimming style resembles the movements of fleas

Waterfleas that carry eggs. Because their saltatory swimming style is similar to that of fleas, waterfleas get the name Waterfleas.

Pictured, are diatoms (single-celled algae). Jan van IJken says: 'These stunningly beautiful, diverse and numerous organisms are invisible to the naked eye, but are drifting in every water around us'

Diatoms are single-celled algae. Jan van IJken states: “These astonishingly beautiful, diverse, and many organisms are invisible, but they are drifting around in all water around us.”


“Plankton” is the Greek word for “drifter” or “wanderer”. Plankton is an organism that is carried along by currents or tides but cannot swim fast enough to resist them. 

This is how plankton move for the majority of their lives. Some plankton are classified only as young animals, while others eventually become large enough to swim against currents. 

While plankton can be microscopic and often only a few inches in length, it also includes larger species such as jellyfish, crustaceans, and other marine life. Plankton can be classified in many ways by scientists, such as their size and type, how they drift, and even how long. 

The most fundamental categories of plankton divide it into phytoplankton, which is a group that includes plants and zooplankton, which are animals. 

While phytoplankton may be microscopic, their role is vital in maintaining the marine food chain. 

Like plants on land, phytoplankton perform photosynthesis to convert the sun’s rays into energy to support them, and they take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. 

Because they need the sun’s energy, phytoplankton are found near the water’s surface. 

Read more: What are plankton? by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration