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Jialing Cai

Underwater Photographer | Marine Biologist |  Storyteller

Hello! I'm Jialing from Chongqing, China currently based in New York City. I'm an early-career underwater photographer and science writer with a master's degree in evolutionary biology from Columbia University. I started underwater photography in 2017 during my second year of college at the age of 19. While I'm passionate about the ocean in general, my time underwater is mostly dedicated to capturing the enigmatic zooplankton in the open ocean at night for the Homoplankton project. 

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>> What does photography mean to me? 

While sharks, dolphins, whales, and jellyfish often take the spotlight in movies and encyclopedias, lesser-known creatures like siphonophores, salps, and pteropods remain obscure to the average person. It was during my college years that I had the opportunity to examine zooplankton field samples under a microscope, and I was captivated by the delicate morphology and astonishing diversity of these often-overlooked inhabitants of our world.

The lab experience ignited within me a profound ambition: to document zooplankton in their natural habitat as a scuba diver with a macro camera. For me, photography transcends mere documentation; it serves as an extension of my vision, and an entrance to the underwater galaxy. 


>> What is my storytelling approach? 


With an academic background in evolutionary biology, I tend to perceive the animals as living records of their long and rich history. From the curvy tail of a seahorse and the vibrant color display of octopus, I could decipher the secret script etched into every form and feature in nature. I don't consider myself the author of these tale but an interpreter of a sacred language that chronicles the past and foretells the future of the natural world.

>> What is my conservation philosophy? 


I believe that the fundamental way to involve the public in conservation is to instill a sense of biophilia, an innate perception more ancient than any other sensory faculty. I try to avoid empty slogans but simply to showcase the sheer beauty of the natural world. It is the sense of awe and wonder that can transcend the boundaries of knowledge and connect with the audience at a more intuitive level. Such feelings themselves might not exert an immediate impact on policy-making and resource management, but it nurtures an essential mindset in future conservationists.


For More Backstories:
  • Interview with Oceanographic | 2023
  • Interview with OctoNation | 2024
  • Interview with Our Narratives | 2024
  • Biographic Documentary by China Central Television | 2024 
  • Invited Talk at Duke University 

Overall Winner 
- Ocean Photographer of the Year | 2023

Second Place 
- Underwater Category at the Nature Conservancy Contest | 2023
Third Place
- Blackwater Category at Ocean Art Photo Contest | 2023
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