The Ocean Photography Awards 2021 have revealed this year's winners, featuring some of the most stunning and alien-like marine life Earth's oceans have to offer. Capturing the lived experience of fishes and explorers alike, the impressive portfolio of images brings together marine animals and ecosystems from across the globe, as well as exploring our impact on them.
The winners were announced in a series of videos on the Ocean Photography Awards Instagram account between September 10-16, with the final announcement taking place in London. The photos will go on display in a free outdoor public exhibition in the city from September 17 to October 17 on the River Thames' Queen's Walk near Tower Bridge.
Photographer Aimee Jan was named the Ocean Photographer of the Year 2021 for the above photograph of a green sea turtle crowded by a school of glass fish. The arresting shot was taken on Ningaloo Reef in Australia, an important nesting site for these endangered turtles.
"I was out snorkelling when one of my colleagues told me there was a turtle under a ledge in a school of glass fish, about 10 metres down," said Jan in a statement sent to IFLScience. “When I dived down to look, the fish separated around the turtle perfectly. I said to her: ‘I think I just took the best photo I have ever taken.'”
Second place was awarded to Henley Spiers who captured the break-neck diving of gannets in pursuit of mackerel in the Shetland Islands, UK. Gannets have evolved to have highly specialized necks, which studies say wouldn’t experience injury until diving at a whopping speed of 80 meters (262.5 feet) per second. Not something to be tried at home by any other vertebrate species.
“Diving in amidst the barrage of gannets, I witness the violent synchronicity of these impressive seabirds as they embark on fishing dives,” said Spiers. “They hit the water at 60mph, an impact they can only withstand thanks to specially evolved air sacs in the head and chest. The bird’s agility transfers from air to sea where it also swims with incredible speed.”
Third place went to Matty Smith who captured a turtle hatchling's precious first moments as it headed into the ocean for the first time. Exactly where turtles go in their "lost years" before returning to beaches to nest as adults has been something of a mystery, but recent research believes that the Sargasso Sea may play an important role as a nursery ground for juvenile turtles.
“A hawksbill turtle hatchling just 3.5cm long and a few minutes old takes its first swim,” said Smith. “It had emerged from an egg just minutes earlier with approximately 100 of its siblings. They quickly made their way into the ocean to disperse as rapidly as they could and avoid predation from birds and fish. I had to work quickly for this shot.”
Exploration Photographer of the Year went to Martin Broen whose shot looks fresh from another planet. In truth, it was taken in an underground water reservoir of the famous Cenote Dos Pisos in Mexico. The beautiful shot shows speleothems casting long shadows across the hidden beauty spot.
Conservation Photographer of the Year went to Kerim Sabuncuoglu whose sobering photo shows a dead moray eel trapped on an abandoned fishing line in Bodrum, Turkey.
To see the full roster of winners visit the Ocean Photography Awards website.