This competition is one of the most prestigious nature photo contests in the world and the winning images represent some of the best underwater photographs of the year. Photographers from 78 countries entered images to the different contest's categories, including two new ones- conservation and blackwater diving.
1st place cold water- "Crab-Eater Seal" by Greg Lecoeur
"During an expedition on a small sailboat, we explored the Antarctica Peninsula by diving below the surface. Although the conditions were extreme with a temperature of -1°C, we documented extraordinary marine fauna at home in a fragile ecosystem, such as on this image: crabeater seal. We also saw leopard seals, gentoo penguins, Antarctica fur seals, and weddell seals. All these marine animals are affected by global warming with the melting of the ice. Despite the name, Crabeater Seals don't eat Crabs. Krill make up to 95% of a Crabeater Seal's diet. Crabeater seals have developed a sieve-shaped tooth structure that ?lters krill, much like whale baleen. They suck up water containing krill, close their jaws, and push the water between their specialized teeth, trapping the krill inside"
1st Place Wide angel category- "Blurslips" by Nicholas More
"This photograph was taken in November 2019 during the last morning of a live-aboard trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia. We were diving Saundereck Jetty when I came across this school of Yellow Ribbon Sweetlips at approximately 25m, over a patch of hard corals. What I found really beautiful about the scene was the cloud of Convict Blennies swarming all over the reef. Ribbon Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus polytaenia) are nocturnal hunters but during the day they form dense schools on the reefs of Raja Ampat, sheltering from the strong current. Capturing this classic schooling behaviour was at the top of my photographic hit-list. To allow the sweetlips to be centre of attention, I used a slow shutter speed and accelerated panning to blur the background. This effect also helps to reinforce the unity of the school moving as a group, in the same direction"
3rd Place - "Eye of the tornado" by Adam Martin
"I've long dreamt of Cabo Pulmo's Jack tornado, since being inspired by an image from marine ecologist, Octavio Aburto, some years ago. After a failed attempt in 2017, I returned to Cabo Pulmo in 2019 hoping to catch a glimpse. It is difficult to plan dives in Cabo Pulmo because the National Park implements a first-come, first-serve, quota system for the maximum number of divers allowed on each site per week. To my surprise, the most popular dive sites were already closed upon my arrival. On the second dive day, we lucked out and found the Jacks. Descending from the surface, I immediately saw the largest school of fish I've ever seen. One moment, they were a massive wall, blocking out the sun. Next, they were a "river" of fish flowing from the surface to the ocean floor. And then they transformed into a spinning tornado around my dive guide, Moctezuma, who could see the surface through the "eye" of the tornado. Since I had a fisheye lens, I was thankfully able to capture much of the scene from very close-up. I always try to set realistic expectations, and never did I imagine I would actually see them like this. It was one of my most exciting dives to date, surrounded by thousands of fish like never before".
Honorable Mention -"Under the Pier" by Jose Antonio Castellano
"I have always found diving under piers and jetties very interesting. The combination between the man-made structure with those long poles and the wild life that gathers around them, makes for perfect photo opportunities. This was the second time I dove this particular pier in Alor, so I knew about the resident group of batfish and I spend most of my dive with them. I really wanted to get a diver involved in the picture to give a sense of scale to the long poles, so I was really happy when one of the Divemasters showed up with his group. I already told him about what I wanted, so he knew exactly where position himself. It was a windy day so the water was not so clear, adding a bit of a gloomy atmosphere, something that I actually like"
1st place Macro ocean- "Radiography" by Stephano Cerbai
"This photo was taken in Puerto Galera, in the Philippines. During a daytime dive I saw this seahorse, and I decided to put the flash behind him with the "Snoot", creating a backlight"
2nd Place Macro ocean - "The Story" by Wu Yung-Sen
"The Pygmy Lemon Gobies inhabit the discarded beer bottle"
3rd place macro ocean - "The Hyponotist" by Dave Johnson
"Unexpectedly we came across this Banded Sea Snake taking a nap on the sea bed at around 20 metres deep. With the maxim in mind that "hesitation kills the shot" I headed way out in front of it so that it could see me approaching and not be spooked. I slowly got nearer and nearer and ended up around 1 metre in front of it, flat on the sandy bottom, took around 6 shots (heart beating rapidly) and then left it where it was (seemed like a wise thing to do). Post processing was just a crop to turn it into portrait presentation and some clarity adjustments in Lightroom. I've never seen this behaviour before or since but people tell me where there's one of these guys resting on the bottom that there are often others buried under the sand nearby!"
Honorable Mention Macro Ocean - "The Indian" by Yat Wai So
"The Peacock Mantis Shrimp was seen in Anilao and normally resides inside the small cave. Besides the strong claws, mantis shrimp also famous about its eyes which are believed to be the most complex visual system in the animal kingdom. It contains 16 photoreceptors which can see UV, visible light and even polarised light. In addition, each eye can be move independently by the stalks, this make the most challenge part of this photo by catching the moment of this beautiful creature looking at the camera with eyes contact. The black background was done using a snoot light to isolate the messy background"
1st place Marine life behavior- "A Friendly Ride" by Paula Vianna
"Pink whip rays catching a ride on a small-eyed ray. The theory is that by doing this they seek protection from predators, save energy and also get leftovers from the big ray. This rare behavior was captured on the SS Yongala shipwreck, on the Great Barrier Reef off Ayr, in Queensland, Australia, and has been registered on the same dive site for around a decade, with different individual small-eyed rays... Could this be passing on through generations?"
2nd Place Marine Life Behavior - "Lethal fluid" by Paulo Bausani
"This squid uses to have a completely different behavior other those that have been observed in inking cephalopods. Usually the release of large amounts of ink into the water by the cephalopod is aimed to create a dark, diffuse cloud that can obscure the predator's view, allowing the cephalopod to make a rapid retreat by jetting away; in this case the cloud of ink is used by the squid for hunting purpose: the ink contains a powerful venom that is capable to seize the prey"
3rd Place Marine Life Behavior- 'Worm with eggs" by Steven Kovacs
"During blackwater dives over deep water, many different kinds of pelagic animals can be found including several species of worms. While usually not the most sought after of subjects to photograph, occasionally these animals will display an unusual behavior that begs to be documented. Alciopid Worms, as shown in the photograph, are fairly common but occasionally they can be found with a ball of eggs that they will very rapidly swim around in a continuous motion. At present, it is a mystery to the scientists as to what kind of behavior is actually occurring although it is suspected that the egg masses belong to the worms themselves"
4th Place Marine Life Behavior - 'Strange encounters" by Hannes Klostermann
"Seeing cormorants hunting sardine is one of the many amazing experiences that a diver can experience at Los Islotes in La Paz, Mexico. While the dive site is most famous for its large sea lion colony the cormorants can really steal the show! They are birds, but are also extremely well adapted to the underwater world. During a photo workshop that we hosted at the dive shop I work at I was fortunate to spend a late afternoon dive with them, focusing entirely on capturing this interesting behaviour and the dappled light that many of us love so much in our pictures. Getting a picture of the cormorants is easy. However, getting a good picture is quite difficult, as the cormorants are very dark and the sardines extremely reflective making balancing the exposure really tricky. It took some adjustments and quite a bit of patience, but finally I managed to capture this image, which in my opinion shows the dynamic of this situation very well. The cormorant is speeding through the water column while the school of sardine breaks up trying to make their escape. A matter of life and death".
5th Place Marine Life Behavior - "The choir" by Pedro Carillo Montero
"Two juvenile sea lions (Zalophus californianus) play under a shallow rocky ledge at Islote Los Lobos, La Paz, Mexico. While they seem to be singing in perfect harmony, I do not remember listening anything! Photographers are always sooo concentrated on their photography! What I do remember, though, was a fellow videographer being right in front on me enjoying this playful couple while I patiently waited for my turn knowing this behaviour might cease in the blink of an eye. Thankfully I manage to frame one shot right before they flew away to explore something else that had just grabbed their attention"
Honorable Mention Marine Life Behavior - "Egg release" by Steven Kovacs
"During a recent dive trip to Bonaire I was very fortunate to be in the water doing a night dive when all of a sudden the entire reef came alive. Thousands of Brittle Stars began climbing to the tops of coral heads in a synchronized event and began releasing either their sperm or eggs into the water column hoping they would meet by chance and fertilize. This incredible event occurs only a few times during the year and I felt incredibly privileged, not only to witness it , but also to be able to photograph it"
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