Winning Photos From Ocean Photographer of the Year Awards Stun And Delight

In its second year, the Ocean Photographer of the Year Awards saw thousands of photographers from all over the world compete. For 2021, Ningaloo Coast-based photographer, Aimee Jan, took top prize for her magical photo of a green turtle surrounded by glass fish taken on the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.

Jan’s beautiful image was the unanimous winner amongst the Ocean Photography Awards judges. “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,” describes Jan. “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’.”

We wonder what the turtle said in response.

Aimee Jan / Ocean Photography Awards

Second place goes to Exeter-based photographer, Henley Spiers, with a beautiful photograph of diving gannets off the Shetland Islands, Scotland. While diving on the coast of Isle of Noss in Shetland, Spiers spotted the birds. “Diving in amidst the barrage of gannets, I witness the violent synchronicity of these impressive seabirds as they embark on fishing dives. 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.”

Henley Spiers / Ocean Photography Awards

In third place is Sydney-based photographer, Matty Smith, with a photo of a hawksbill turtle hatchling heading out to sea for the first time. Taken near Lissenung Island, Papua New Guinea, “A hawksbill turtle hatchling just 3.5cm long and a few minutes old takes its first swim,” says photographer Matty 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.”

Matty Smith / Ocean Photography Awards

Also announced as the inaugural winner in the new category – Female Fifty Fathoms Award – is LA-based photographer and biology teacher, Renee Capozzola.

“This over-under image was achieved by using a wide-angle lens, a large dome port and strobe flash to illuminate the underwater portion of the picture,” says photographer Renee Capozzola of the image taken in Mo´orea, French Polynesia. “Sharks are plentiful in French Polynesia due to their strong legal protections and are a sign of a healthy marine ecosystem.”

Renee Capozzola / Ocean Photography Awards

Second and third places in this category included Aimee Jan’s photo of a manta ray feeding in calm waters. “We were out on a humpback whale tour when manta rays were spotted line feeding, swimming back and forth on the surface scooping up huge mouthfuls of plankton,” says photographer Aimee Jan. “On this day there was no wind – we call this a glass off because the surface of the water looks like glass. We got in for a swim and it was just beautiful. I took a few photos. This one was my favourite.”

Aimee Jan / Ocean Photography Awards

Third goes to Emilie Ledwidge for a leopard shark slowly swimming away on the Ningaloo Reef. “In this chaotic world we should be taking the time to consider what is important,” says photographer Emilie Ledwidge. “What is important to us? What is important to Mother Earth? Sharks continue to be fished, finned, culled and hated by much of the world’s people. Their populations continue to fade and yet this is one species that we as humans cannot live without.”

Emilie Ledwidge / Ocean Photography Awards

The Ocean Photography Awards mission is to “shine a light on the beauty of the ocean and the threats it faces.”

This year’s competition was produced by Oceanographic Magazine in partnership with Blancpain, Princess Yachts and Tourism Western Australia, and in support of conservation organization SeaLegacy.

“As a keen scuba diver and underwater photographer, I appreciate what it takes to capture extraordinary photographs of the ocean: passion, skill and commitment to
your craft, says Marc A Hayek, president and CEO of Blancpain. “The finalists of the Ocean Photography Awards 2021 display those assets in abundance.”

Their images reveal the ocean for what it is – or at least what it should be – a place full of life, colour and wonder. They also
remind us of the injustices we are inflicting upon it. What a powerful collection of photographs.”

Included in the awards is Young Ocean Photographer of the Year.

On Australia’s Heron Island, Hannah Le Leu captured the image of a green sea turtle hatchling cautiously surfaces for air, to a sky full of hungry birds. She won first in this category.

Hannah Le Leu /Ocean Photography Awards

Jack McKee won second for a juvenile flying fish, photographed from below on Lady Elliot Island, Australia

Jack McKee/Ocean Photography Awards

Third goes to Mikayla Jones for two gray whales seemingly pose for the camera off of Baja California.

Mikayla Jones / Ocean Photography Awards

Cristina Mittermeier, co-founder and president of SeaLegacy, said of the photographers: “The calibre of the images submitted to the second annual Ocean Photography Awards was incredible! I, along with my fellow judges, were challenged and more than impressed by the entries this year. We spent a lot of time discussing the power these images have to inspire people all over the world to advocate for ocean protection. We also spent a considerable amount of time admiring the incredible artistry.”

Ben Thouard won the Ocean Adventure Photographer of the Year category. In his photo, surfer Matahi Drollet catches a wave known as Teahupo’o in Tahiti.

Ben Thouard/Ocean Photography Awards

He also won second place for another photo of a wave known as Teahupo’o, as seen from below.

Ben Thouard /Ocean Photography Awards

Third went to 
Sebastien Pontoizeau for his image of a freediver duck diving to capture a photograph of a humpback whale on Réunion Island.

Sebastien Pontoizeau/Ocean Photography Awards

The Ocean Adventure category also included these Highly Commended images:

A humpback whale dives into the blue, emitting a trail of bubbles as it descends in Okinawa, Japan by Daisuke Kurashima.

Daisuke Kurashima/Ocean Photography Awards

Gergo Rugli photographed a common dolphin in the Port Stephens Marine Park off Broughton Island, Australia.

Gergo Rugli/Ocean Photography Awards

Playful grey seals – a species that has been protected in the UK for decades under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 are captured by Grant Thomas off of the Farne Islands, United Kingdom.

Grant Thomas/Ocean Photography Awards

A manta ray, surrounded by a school of fish photographed by Jake Wilton at Coral Bay, Western Australia.

Jake Wilton/Ocean Photography Awards

James Ferrara took this photo of a sperm whale and sargassum seaweed at Roseau, Dominica.

James Ferrara/Ocean Photography Awards

A diver descends into a cenote at Quintana Roo, Mexico, captured by Martin Broen.

Martin Broen/Ocean Photography Awards

Rodrigo Thome diving in Darwin Island, Galapagos photographs a shiver of hammerhead sharks.

Rodrigo Thome/Ocean Photography Awards

A humpback whale calf crashes back into the ocean after a breach near Neiafu, Tonga as photographed by Scott Portelli.

Scott Portelli/Ocean Photography Awards

Steve Woods shoots sea lions swarming a diver on Vancouver Island, Canada.

Steve Woods / Ocean Photography Awards

Tanya Houppermans photographed an American crocodile glides through the water at sunset at Gardens of the Queen, Cuba, a protected marine reserve since 1996.

Tanya Houppermans/Ocean Photography Awards

The Ocean Conservation Photographer of the Year category takes on more urgency with the increased scientific reports of climate change and environmental pollution. The images in this category are all disturbing but clearly explain the problems in an image.

The winner,
 Kerim Sabuncuoglu, captured the image of a dead moray eel on an abandoned fishing line in Bodrum, Turkey.

Kerim Sabuncuoglu/Ocean Photography Awards

“The images submitted in this year’s OPA, without doubt, poignantly highlight the fact that the most important thing we can do right now is act quickly to protect our planet and our ocean,” said Kiran Haslam, chief marketing officer at Princess Yachts.

A gull caught on a ghost fishing line at Saltstraumen, Norway earned Galice Hoarau second in the category.

Galice Hoarau /Ocean Photography Awards

Third place went to Steven Kovacs for a female paper nautilus drifting along on a piece of trash in Anilao, Philippines.

Steven Kovacs/Ocean Photography Awards

Commended images:

A shark with a fishing hook and line protruding from its mouth in Florida taken by Galice Hoarau.

Galice Hoarau/Ocean Photography Awards

Henley Spiers: An olive ridley turtle ensnared by fishing gear, far offshore in the Pacific Ocean.

Henley Spiers/Ocean Photography Awards

A dead gannet hangs from a piece of discarded fishing gear, used to build its nest taken by Henley Spiers on Isle of Noss, Shetland, UK.

Henley Spiers/Ocean Photography Awards

Jason Gulley took this photo of a dead manatee floats in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon in March, 2021. “The state is in the middle of a massive manatee die off. As of July 9, at least 850 manatees have died. More manatees have died in the first six months of 2021 than any other year on record. Pollution has caused seagrass beds along Florida’s east coast to collapse, wiping out an important manatee food source. With nothing to eat, manatees are starving to death.”

Jason Gulley/Ocean Photography Awards

Kimball Chen photographed an endangered yellow-eyed penguin under a starry sky in Curio Bay, New Zealand.

Kimball Chen/Ocean Photography Awards

Nicholas Samaras captured this image in Stratoni, Greece of a seahorse clinging to a face mask.

Nicholas Samaras/Ocean Photography Awards

A dead fish caught in a ghost net on Redonda Island, Brazil was photographed by Rodrigo Thome.

Rodrigo Thome/Ocean Photography Awards

Stefan Christmann took this photo of an emperor penguin chick stands on the edge of the Antarctica ice-shelf, staring at the open water below.

Stefan Christmann/Ocean Photography Awards

A lizardfish tries to eat a cigarette filter in Florida as taken by Steven Kovacs.

Steven Kovacs/Ocean Photography Awards

Anchovy fishing boats photographed from above along the coastline of Phu Yen province, Vietnam by Thien Nguyen Ngoc.

Thien Nguyen Ngoc/Ocean Photography Awards

The Portfolio Awards went to three photographers. Below are one image from each porfolio winner.

1st Place to Stefan Christmann: Two emperor penguin parents shielding their young chick from the drifting snow.

Stefan Christmann/Ocean Photography Awards

2nd Place to Matty Smith: A southern bobtail squid performs a spectacular display on the seabed at night. “During a shallow night dive in Wollongong Harbour, NSW I came across this adult male Southern Bobtail Squid hunting across the sand,” says Smith. “As I approached it seemed to take interest in its reflection in my camera lens port and began to dance with this curious and colourful display. It’s a behaviour I’ve only witness a couple of times in several years of diving here, but this time I managed to capture it before the animal vanished into the night.”

Matty Smith/Ocean Photography Awards

3rd Place to Alex Kydd: An uncommon sighting of a whale shark feeding on a large school of baitfish on the Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia.

Alex Kydd/Ocean Photography Awards

The Community Choice Award category winners were as follows:

Surfer Jack Robinson rides the famous break known as ‘The Right’, home to some of the heaviest waves in the world in Denmark, Western Australia. The surfer was photographed by Phil de Glanville, the winner of the The Community Choice Award.

Phil de Glanville/Ocean Photography Awards

Other photographers of note in this category are Ben Thouard, who captured a surfer wipeout from below the surface in Tahiti, French Polynesia.

Ben Thouard/Ocean Photography Awards

Maxwel Hohn photographed a sea nettle drifting in the shallows of Monterey Bay, California, USA.

Maxwel Hohn/Ocean Photography Awards

A pod of dolphins catches a wave in Cape Naturaliste, Western Australia. Michael Haluwana was there.

Michael Haluwana/Ocean Photography Awards

Fabrice Guerin captured a sea lion hunts mackerel off the coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico.

Fabrice Guerin/Ocean Photography Awards

To find out more about the Ocean Photography Awards, visit their website:

Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links.