Climate change is changing all aspects of the natural world and the ecosystems being most rapidly affected are our world’s oceans and fresh waters. They are warming and acidifying at an alarming rate, putting animal life under serious threat. Salt-water and fresh-water animals are being increasingly impacted by overfishing, discarded netting and plastic pollution and chemical dumping.
Photographers and scientists are increasingly documenting these changes with an unflinching eye so there is a greater understanding of human impacts and to spur conservation efforts.
Save Our Seas Foundation – a philanthropic organization committed to protecting the world’s oceans – has teamed up with the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition to pick the Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year for 2022.
‘Save Our Seas Foundation’ Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022. Thien Nguyen Ngoc. Big appetite, Hon Yen, Phu Yen province (Vietnam)
An aerial perspective of busy anchovy fishing activities off the coast of Hon Yen , Phu Yen province , Vietnam, many local fisherman families along the coastline will follow the near-shore currents to catch the anchovy during peak season.
Salted anchovy is the most important raw material to create traditional Vietnamese fish sauce but anchovies are a little fish with a big impact. When they are overfished, the whales, tunas, sea birds… and other marine predators that rely on them as a dietary staple face starvation and population decline critically.
And so far Vietnam is also facing this anchovy overfishing situation, according to the survey results of the Institute of Seafood Research, the reserves and catches of anchovies in the waters of Vietnam have decreased by 20-30% in the past 10 years.
Judge Peter Rowlands writes of the image: “A stark visual reminder of man’s reach and control over the surrounding habitat and its devastating effect on the natural balance.”
Runner Up. Fabrice Dudenhofer. Fishermen camp, Isla Magdalena, Mexico
“During a recent trip to Mexico, in Baja California Sur, I had the opportunity to visit a shark fishing camp located on Magdalena Island. After asking permission from the fishermen, I was able to photograph them when they returned from fishing,” writes Dudenhofer.
He continues, “I wanted to make a split shot to show both the fishermen next to their pangas and the remains of the Mako they had just cut up. In Mexico, shark fishing is absolutely legal but there are fewer and fewer of them to be observed in their natural environment and many species are on the verge of extinction. More than ever it is essential to protect them.”
Judge Tobias Friedrich writes, “This image was an early favourite when we looked through this category. It really reflects the spirit of the conservation topic and shows the cruelty of mankind. I hope we can stop slaughtering sharks with the help of images like this for the future.”
Third Place. Pasquale Vassallo. In the net, Gulf of Naples
“During a dive, where I wanted to document fishing with nets, near the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea,” writes Vassallo. “While climbing the nets to retrieve the caught fish, I noticed the strength and tenacity of some tuna in trying to free themselves from it, unfortunately very difficult.”
Highly Commended. Sebnem Coskun. Microplastic sent to the stomach, Rize / Microplastics research laboratory, Turkey
According to the research conducted by the Turkey Plaston research team, plastics that harm living things and soil take many years to mix with nature, while burning them causes air pollution and throwing them into the sea harms the marine ecosystem.
Plastics, which threaten the lives of sea creatures and mix into the sea, break down due to reasons such as sun, wind and sea salt, turn into micro plastics and can be consumed by these creatures.
In the Black Sea, it was revealed for the first time that insect-like creatures (zooplankton-kopepods), which constitute the main food of fish such as anchovy, consume microplastics in their natural environment.
Microplastics and related chemicals that enter from the lowest steps of the food chain can grow in the food chain and reach the table. In their study, the Plaston team wants to draw attention to how plastics break down and reach humans through fish.
Commended. Javier Murcia. Deadly Plastics, La Manga del Mar Menor (Murcia)
The coastal lagoon of the Mar Menor is one of the most important ecosystems in Europe. You also have a place very polluted by plastics and other garbage. The plastics in soft drinks are often a danger to marine fauna. In this case, an adult cormorant has died drowned by one of these plastics. A pity that is repeated a lot in these ecosystems.
Commended. Alex Lindbloom, Too Little too Late? Halmahera, Indonesia
“I started working in Indonesia ten years ago. Back then you might see a little plastic here and there, but mostly in the big ports. Now, specifically in the last five years, the plastic seems to be out of control,” says Lindbloom. “I was on a shoot in a very remote corner of Indonesia, nowhere near a large city or port, when these kilometer-long slicks of plastic bombarded us for days. Underwater the plastic was 3-5 meters thick.”
“It’s easy to blame Indonesia for this mess, but it’s very important to remember that countries like the United States export hundreds of thousands of shipping containers each year full of their ‘recycled’ rubbish to countries like Indonesia where around 80% of their rubbish is mismanaged. Plastic ending up in nature is not a country-specific problem, it’s a global problem. We are all to blame.”
Commended. Shane Gross, Water Tree, Virginia, USA
“I was in Oyster, Virginia to document the world’s largest seagrass restoration project being conducted by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and The Nature Conservancy. While I was studying the area on Google maps I noticed these amazing patters in a nearby salt marsh and knew it would be productive to send my drone over the area,” describes Gross.
“Then the challenge became finding order in the beautiful chaos. This tree-like pattern struck me as soon as I saw it and is fitting as we give trees a lot of credit for sequestering carbon, but salt marches, mangroves and seagrasses (collectively known as blue carbon) are disproportionately massive carbon sinks.”
Commended. Kevin De Vree, Deadly Appetite. Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo
“Pufferfish can be seen amongst other tropical fish in an overcrowded aquarium at Tsukiji, the world’s biggest fish market. They can produce toxins so deadly that they can kill if prepared improperly. Yet the delicacy is so popular that overfishing may be pushing one species of puffer to the brink of extinction,” writes De Vree. “To me this photo symbolises humans deadly appetite, leading to overfishing and ultimately the destruction of our oceans.
Commended. Boshen Qian, The defeat of the king. Puerto San Carlos
“In Puerto San Carlos, a bay in Mexico, fishermen pack their catch ashore every day and dump their rubbish into the sea. It was very windy today. We couldn’t go out to sea to photograph Marin. After listening to the local dive guide that there is such a place, our team decided to go to this bay to see what could be photographed.”
“I was shocked when I saw the shoals of the sea littered with shark heads cut off by fishermen. Sharks are the top predators in the sea but under the human slaughter is so helpless. Ocean ecosystems without sharks are unhealthy, I hope everyone can protect sharks.”
Commended. Rafael Fernandez Caballero, Deadly reflections with a happy ending, Mexico
“The university of Exeter estimated that 91% of turtles entangled in discarded fishing gear died. Luckily our turtle was one of that small 9%. The number of sea turtles have decreased dramatically during the last decades. It’s estimated that approximately 52% of these animals have eaten plastic.”
“This day we saw a net and when we were going to pick it up we realized there was a small turtle entangled,” writes Caballero. “The best thing to do in this case is call emergency services to avoid hurting the animal. But in this case, we were far from land with no signal and we thought that we must try to help there.”
He continues, “A few friends, a knife and a long time were needed to finally release this turtle. There is always hope and even humans can help to solve the problems they created. We have just to erase the origin of these problems.”
To learn more about the Save Our Seas Foundation visit their website. And to help support the ocean and freshwater habitats, start locally. Research local conservation groups in your community and volunteer to lend a hand. Small steps can sometimes result in big change over time.
To see more positive and uplifting photos of sea life, take a look at this year’s winners in the Underwater Photographer of The Year competition.