"Caretta Caretta Turtle": Marine Conservation Award Winner
Photo: Eduardo Acevedo (Spain)

We humans are land animals, but that doesn’t stop some photographers from journeying into the world beneath the waves. The Underwater Photographer of the Year Competition showcases some of their most dazzling and disturbing discoveries.

More than 5,000 images from photographers around the world were entered into the competition this year, and the list of winners and runner-ups is long; plenty of marvelous photos shot in macro, wide angle, and portrait styles depict what lurks in our seas and along our coasts. Not only do these images invoke a sense of wonder; they help us understand of the delicate ocean life we all depend on—and how our actions are imperiling it.

In fact, a whole category is dedicated to marine conservation. The winning image is rather haunting, showing a Caretta caretta turtle stuck in fishnet. Others include the head of a baby dugong that’s been killed.

This award have been around since 2014, and the competition has only grown since then. Among the 130 winners and runner ups of 2019, you can find a wide variety of subjects. We’ve gathered some of our favorites, but check out the full list of winners here.


‘The Gauntlet’ by Richard Barnden

The Gauntlet: Underwater Photographer of the Year 2019
Photo: Richard Barnden (United Kingdom)

British photographer Richard Barnden won the title of Underwater Photographer of 2019 for his image of a swarm of sharks rushing to catch a parrotfish.

“Killing Angels” by João Rodrigues

“Killing Angels”: Marine Conservation Award Photographer Runner Up
Photo: João Rodrigues (Portugal)

On the East Javan island of Indonesia, fishers catch mobula rays to sell their gills to the Chinese traditional medicine market. This practice may soon endanger the animals.

“Fly High and Smile” by Nicholas Samaras

“Fly High and Smile”: Portrait Award Winner
Photo: Nicholas Samaras (Greece)

This colorful little ray was captured off the coast of Stratoni, Greece, while the photographer was checking out a seahorse colony.

“Playtime?” by Martin Edser

“Playtime?”: British Waters Compact Award Winner
Photo: Martin Edser (UK)

The photographer captured this seal in a playful moment while shooting around the Farne Islands in the U.K.

“The Woman in Red” by Virginia Salzedo

“The Woman in Red”: Portrait Award Highly Commended
Photo: Virginia Salzedo (Italy)

This surreal photo evokes how the photographer feels when she’s in the water: “light” and “one with the water,” according to this description. It was taken nearly 60 feet deep where the model, who is also a free-diving champion, had to pose for several hours among fish for the perfect shot.

“Jack Perks” by Jack Perks

“Jack Perks”: British Waters Wide Angle Award Runner Up
Photo: Jack Perks (UK)

This grass snake likes to hang out in a pond in Nottinghamshire, England, in search of frogs, so the photographer headed over to capture it.

“Inside the Eggs” by Flavio Vailati

“Inside the Eggs”: Macro Award Runner Up
Photo: Flavio Vailati (Italy)

This nudibranch, captured in the Philippines, is chilling with some eggs. It’s not clear what kind of eggs these are or if they’re even related to the nudibranch, but they’re definitely where the colorful sea slug likes to hang.

“Gentle Giants” by François Baelen

“Gentle Giants”: Wide Angle Award Winner
Photo: François Baelen (Reunion Island)

This photo also won an award in a separate competition, proving just how marvelous an image it is.

“Swanage Sea Hare” by Paul Pettitt

“Swanage Sea Hare”: British Waters Macro Award Runner Up
Photo: Paul Pettitt (UK)

This beautifully bright sea hare, a type of sea slug, was shot along Swanage Pier in England.

“Curious Crabeater” by Jessica Farrer

“Curious Crabeater”: Wide Angle Award Runner Up
Photo: Jessica Farrer (US)

A photographer/biologist shot this photo of this majestic crabeater seal while exploring the Antarctic Peninsula.

“Switch” by Ping Sun

“Switch”: Marine Conservation Award Highly Commended
Photo: Ping Sun (China)

Here, we’re forced to imagine what it would be like if the tables were turned. What if humans were the ones stuck in fishnet rather than the animals we ensnare? In this photo, the photographer had to practice some dry runs with the model to ensure she’d be safe. Safety divers also were on-site for this shoot to ensure the model wouldn’t actually get entangled in the net.

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About the author

Yessenia Funes

I mostly write about how environmental policy and climate change intersect with race and class though I occasionally write about animals, science, and art, too. We all need an escape, right?

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