“Stallions Playing.” This year’s grand prize winner of the Nature Conservancy’s annual photo contest.
Photo: Camille Briottet (The Nature Conservancy)

Amid the toxic wasteland that is daily life, it’s important to step back and remember our world is still a place of wonder. And so I implore you to take a moment and do that with the winners of the Nature Conservancy’s annual photo contest.

This year’s contest attracted a record-breaking 57,489 photographs taken by photographers spread across 135 countries. The entries showcase the many forms beauty can take here on Earth.

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“The quality of entries this year is stunning. It was very difficult to select the winner,” Bill Marr, director of photography for The Nature Conservancy and one of the contest’s judges, said in a statement.

While I haven’t looked through all 57,489 entries, I’m inclined to say Bill is probably right. This year’s grand prize winner captures stallions horsing around (I’m sorry) in southern France. Other honorees show the explosive power of volcanoes in Hawaii and Mexico, chill ass alligators in Brazil, and the ethereal frozen landscape of Iceland.

Humans are of course also a part of Earth, and the contest doesn’t ignore that with categories for people and nature as well as cities and nature. But even in the more “natural” categories, humans clearly still play a role in the environment. In the water category, the third place winner is a plastic bag caught twisting in the ocean currents near Shellharbour, Australia. The caption?

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“A plastic bag in its natural habitat, the ocean...Plastic was once worshiped, now it destroys everything we love. Nature connects us all, we have a duty to protect her.”

Truth. And there’s no shortage of things natural or otherwise that need protecting in our world of late. So take a look at these photos, get refreshed, and get to it. A full selection of this year’s winners and their captions is available on the Nature Conservancy’s contest page.

“Stallions Playing.” This year’s grand prize winner taken in Camargue, France.
Photo: Camille Briottet (The Nature Conservancy)

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“The End Is Near.” Ice that broke off the Vatnajokull Glacier at Jokulsarlon Bay in Iceland.
Photo: Andre Mercier (The Nature Conservancy)
“Her Majesty.” A plastic bag photographed near Shellharbour, Australia, located to the south of Sydney.
Photo: Aristo Risi (The Nature Conservancy)
“Watching You Watching Me.” A red fox in Bonavista, Newfoundland.
Photo: Megan Lorenz (The Nature Conservancy)

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“Meeting of the Alligators.” Lagoon with many alligators in the northern Pantanal area of Brazil.
Photo: Jorge Andre Diehl (The Nature Conservancy)
“Slender Slots.” One of the narrow slot canyons in Escalante National Monument.
Photo: Tanner Latham (The Nature Conservancy)
“My Home My City.” Lion Rock rises above Hong Kong.
Photo: Kwok Kui Andus Tse (The Nature Conservancy)

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“Lava Explosion.” Lava from Kilauea (before the current eruption got wild) hits the ocean and explodes.
Photo: Elyse Butler (The Nature Conservancy)