The winners of the 10th Annual Photo Competition for UN World Oceans Day were announced on June 8th, 2023, during the UN World Oceans Day (UNWOD) 2023 event at the UN Headquarters in New York. The free competition, which launched this past March, explored the six thematic categories linked to the overarching 2023 theme: “Planet Ocean: Tides Are Changing.” World-renowned judges including wildlife photographer Rathika Ramasamy (India), wildlife photographer Rajan Desai (USA), underwater fine art wildlife photographer Ipah Uid Lynn (Malaysia), and photographer and filmmaker Antoine Janssens (Switzerland), selected first, second, and third place winners for the categories. Winners were selected from thousands of global entries made by both amateur and professional photographers.
The UN World Oceans Day event and the annual photo competition are hosted by the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the Office of Legal Affairs (DOALOS) in partnership with Oceanic Global and supported by Panerai, with contribution by Discover Earth and OceanX. The annual competition is curated by Ellen Cuylaerts, and coordinated with DPG, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, and Nausicaa.
The 2023 winning photographers hail from 14 different countries. Their names include: Álvaro Herrero (Mekan), Simon Lorenz, Ines Goovaerts (“No Time to Waste”), Tom Shlesinger, Edwar Herreño Parra (“Putting the Ocean First”), Chris Gug, Sina Ritter, Alex Permiakov (“The Wonderful World of Tides”), Shane Gross, Niklas Manger, Rachel Moore (“Ocean Is Life”), Glenn Ostle, Simon Temple, Adriano Morettin (“Big and Small Underwater Faces”), Andy Schmid, Mayumi Takeuchi-Ebbins, Simon Biddie (“Underwater Seascapes”). All participants signed a charter of 14 commitments regarding ethics in photography.
The United Nations World Oceans Day Photo Competition is an ongoing tradition that calls on photographers and artists from around the world to communicate the beauty of the ocean and the importance of the respective UNWOD themes each year. Winning photos from past years can additionally be seen at www.unworldoceansday.org.
© Álvaro Herrero (Mekan) (Spain). No Time to Waste – Winner
Humpback Whale. Pacific Ocean, Baja California, Mexico. A humpback whale with a buoy entangled to its tail, already decomposed, dies slowly and agonizingly. A clear reflection of the slow and painful death that we are giving to our oceans, our planet
© Simon Lorenz (Germany). No Time to Waste – 2nd Place
Top: Sea turtles face a multitude of man made threats. The plastic trash floating in the ocean is often mistaken as food by sea turtles like this Olive Ridley in Sri Lanka. After ingesting the plastic the turtles become too buoyant to dive. With their carapace floating above the water they eventually dry out and die of heat and starvation. Middle and bottom: This Olive Ridley sea turtle was found entangled in a ghost net far off the coast of Sri Lanka. It likely was resting on the man-made island when it got helplessly entangled. Fortunately it could be freed by my local guide and released without injury
© Ines Goovaerts (Belgium). No Time to Waste – 3rd Place
Behold the mouth of the Ishëm River in Albania, one of the top 3 most polluted rivers in Europe. Due to issues related to waste management in this area, a total of 700000 kg of plastic trash every year ends up in the Adriatic sea. As conservation and in-house photographer of NGO River Cleanup, I’ve traveled to this spot multiple times to capture the tragedy that is happening right in front of us. By involving people, companies and governments, River Cleanup’s objective is to clean this river from source to ending. Awareness, change and action is needed to turn the tide for this river, the sea, the planet and humanity. There is literally no time to waste!
© Tom Shlesinger (Israel). Putting the Ocean First — Winner
Although the hawksbill sea turtle is critically endangered, it is quite common in the Gulf of Aqaba and Eilat, northern Red Sea. This sea turtle is among the smallest of all sea turtles and its diet is diverse, ranging from sponges and soft corals to jellyfish, crustaceans, and more. Here, a hawksbill sea turtle checking out a coral nursery dubbed “the igloo”. This dome-shaped artificial reef was built and placed in the sea more than two decades ago. Quickly after corals were transplanted onto the igloo, many more established themselves naturally, which in turn attracted numerous species of fishes and other animals to visit and inhabit the structure
© Edwar Herreño Parra (Colombia). Putting the Ocean First — 2nd Place
“Full hands”: Marine Biologist Eduardo Espinosa, boat captain and a volunteer helping to oxygenate these shark pups before they are released. That day they capture 11 individuals and after conducting different studies (size, sex, bio samples, installing numeric tags in the dorsal fin), they were successfully released. Teamwork is a very important key for the success of this expedition since they have only couple of minutes to run all studies. After two minutes the shark can die from suffocation. Few years ago, Eduardo Espinosa, an Ecuadorian marine biologist and Galapagos’ Park ranger discovered one of the most important shark nursery areas in the heart of the Galapagos Island. Getting all the way there is quite a task that only small craft boat can do, in high tide. On my first visit I just couldn’t believe that a place like this even exist, it was like being in a cartoon movie: babies’ sharks of many species, baby rays and baby turtles in large numbers but specially hammerhead and black tip sharks. As a marine biologist I’ve being in other mangroves/nursery areas, but nothing compared to this one. This is one of the most important providers of life for the ocean. Eduardo is conducting important studies to create management plans for the conservation of endangered marine species and thanks to people like Eduardo and other NGO’s, the government of Ecuador expanded the Galapagos national park protected area in November 2021, they created new MPA (marine protected areas) and it was a good role model for other countries in the area that follows this important actions. This year, Costa Rica expanded Cocos island national park, then Colombia expanded Malpelo island and together created the first trans national marine corridor from Cocos island (Costa Rica) to Galapagos Island (Ecuador)
© Edwar Herreño Parra (Colombia). Putting the Ocean First — 3rd Place
“Eyes on future”: Marine Biologist ensuring that the hammerhead shark pup (Scalloped Hammerhead shark - Sphyrna lewini) he has just released, is in perfect conditions. Water was cold but the biologist goal is to make sure all the sharks we caught that day (11), resume normal activities, including breathing. The biologist is conducting important studies to save this species that is critically endangered of extinction. It is estimated that only in the last decade, the population of this shark has fallen by more than 90%. Sharks fining is the mayor threat for sharks, in this picture, ironically, you see a dorsal fin alone in the reflection above, without the yellow numeric tag installed for the biologist... it is the dark shadow that chases this species of sharks, they are killed for just for their fins to make shark fin soup in Asia. Few years ago, Eduardo Espinosa, an Ecuadorian marine biologist and Galapagos’ Park ranger discovered one of the most important shark nursery areas right in the heart of the Galapagos Island (Santa Cruz Island) - Ecuador. Getting all the way there is quite a task that only small craft boat can do, in high tide. On my first visit I just couldn’t believe that a place like this even exist, it was like being in a cartoon movie: babies’ sharks of many species, baby rays and baby turtles all of them in large numbers but specially hammerhead and black tip sharks. As a marine biologist I’ve being in other mangroves/nursery areas, but nothing compared to this one. This is one of the most important providers of life for the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Eduardo is conducting important studies to create management plans for the conservation of endangered marine species and thanks to people like Eduardo and other NGO’s, the government of Ecuador expanded the Galapagos national park protected area in November 2021, they created new MPAs (marine protected areas) in the cost of Ecuador and it was a good role model for other countries in the area that follows this important actions. Last year, Costa Rica expanded Cocos island national park, then Colombia expanded Malpelo island and together created the first trans national marine corridor from Cocos island (Costa Rica) to Galapagos Island (Ecuador). Finally the authorities realized that it isn't enough to reenforce protection of endangered migratory species in the National Parks where this species are protected but totally vulnerable as soon as they leave protected areas. The creation of this marine corridor for migratory species is a big step forward to recover populations of threatened and endangered species such Hammerhead sharks. I took this picture few months before the Covid pandemic crisis; 2020 was one of the worst years for the Galapagos Islands due the fishing pressure where thousands of fishing boats surrounded this national park. This species is in the IUCN red list (Critically Endangered)
© Chris Gug (USA). The Wonderful World of Tides — Winner
While scouting over the ocean for the aggregation of mobula rays off the coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico with my drone day after day, I came across the most beautifully powerful shorebreak where the massive waves crashed directly onto the sand. Having captured plenty of images of the mobula schools, I set my attention to capturing images of the waves, but was immediately disappointed as they seemed to now be breaking about 20 meters out from the beach line, and no longer created the churning of the sand that I found so beautiful the day before. I came to realize that it was now low tide, and rocks a ways out were crumbling the waves and destroying the barrel due to the lower water levels. A quick Google search gave me the time of the peak high tide, and I returned yet another day to find the waves forming beautiful barrels energetically exploding directly on the beach, and sucking huge amounts of sand with each impact
© Sina Ritter (Germany). The Wonderful World of Tides — 2nd Place
Witnessing the sheer delight of experiencing the ocean’s embrace, as a tiny black sea turtle hatchling takes its very first steps into the surf of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun, this little adventurer takes advantage of the high tide, making its journey shorter and escaping the watchful eyes of predators
© Alex Permiakov (Russia). The Wonderful World of Tides — 3rd Place
The photo was captured in Bali, Indonesia. It was a beautiful sunset and I was mesmerised by a group of surfers jumping on the waves. After waiting for the right moment I managed to capture this photo. The photo captures a surfer suspended in mid-air, showcasing the profound connection between their exhilarating leap and the powerful tides. As the surfer gracefully rides the waves, they harness the energy and motion generated by the ebb and flow of the tides. It serves as a vivid testament to the inseparable relationship between surfers and the dynamic forces of nature, highlighting how tides propel and shape the thrilling experiences enjoyed by surfers worldwide
© Pavlos Evangelidis (Greece). The Wonderful World of Tides — Honorable Mention
“Catch of the Tide”: Traditional stilt fishermen try their luck with the changing tide at sunset in Koggala, Sri Lanka. This is a single take at 8s shutter opening with an ND filter to showcase the water movement in contrast to the stillness of the fishermen. Traditional, artisanal fishing methods like these, used for subsistence or community-based markets, do not pose significant threats to the ocean’s natural resources. On the contrary, they make local communities key stakeholders to the ocean’s health
© Nuria Costa (Spain). The Wonderful World of Tides — Honorable Mention
This marine iguana was photographed resting and reheating on the shore in Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz. Endemic to the Galapagos Islands, they are the only sea-going lizards in the world and thus excellent swimmers. Whilst larger individuals have the strength and ability to feed in tough sea conditions, smaller ones stay inshore and feed on algae exposed at low tide
© Shane Gross (Canada). Ocean Is Life – Winner
A mother and son gather sea urchins for their family at low tide in a seagrass meadow in Bali, Indonesia. Seagrass is an often overlooked coastal habitat important for food security, biodiversity, storm protection, and fisheries. Seagrass meadows also store carbon more efficiently than rainforests helping in our fight against climate change. Seagrass is something conservationists and fishers agree need to be protected
© Niklas Manger (Germany). Ocean Is Life — 2nd Place
In this image, we see the timeless dance of the humpback whales, a dance that has been performed for centuries in the depths of the ocean. The touching of their pectoral fins seems almost like a gesture of affection, reminding us of the strong emotional connections that exist between these intelligent and sentient beings. This photograph captures a fleeting moment of intimacy in the vastness of the ocean in Cabo San Lucas, inviting us to witness the beauty of nature at its most raw and profound. Reminding us of the importance of living in harmony with our environment
© Rachel Moore (USA). Ocean Is Life — 3rd Place
For the past two decades, French Polynesia has been a leader in marine conservation, proudly holding the title of the world’s largest shark sanctuary. Their commitment to expanding protection measures to over 350,000 square miles by 2030 is truly inspirational. The positive impact of their conservation efforts is evident in the abundant shark populations and thriving reefs of the remote Tuamotu islands. Sharks play a crucial role in regulating oceanic biodiversity, making their preservation critical for a healthy ocean ecosystem and the survival of human beings. French Polynesia's dedication to protecting these apex predators is a shining example to the world, reminding us all of our responsibility to safeguard our planet’s natural wonders. Their unwavering commitment to marine conservation is a beacon of hope, inspiring us all to take action and work together to protect our oceans for future generations
© Galice Hoarau (France). Ocean Is Life — Honorable Mention
Mouth brooding cardinal fish, Siladen (Indonesia). Unidentified species of cardinal fish releasing its hatchlings at night in the open ocean. Photo taken during a blackwater dive
© Glenn Ostle (USA). Big and Small Underwater Faces – Winner
The narrow Sea of Cortez is one of the most biologically diverse bodies of water on the planet. Home to more than nine hundred species of fish, thousands of species of invertebrates, and a wide array of marine life, it so impressed Jacques Cousteau that he referred to it as the “aquarium of the world.” Only a short boat ride from LaPaz, Mexico, is a pair of rocky islets known as Los Islotes. With a population of between four and five hundred animals, it is home to the largest reproductive colony of California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) in the Sea of Cortez. We were fortunate to visit the islets at a time when huge schools of fish were also in abundance around the islets. The water seemed to boil with life and it was hypnotic to watch the sea lions dart into huge aggregations of silver fish, only to burst back through the schools, splitting, and dividing them. The fish would quickly regroup but so densely that it was often difficult to even see another diver just a few feet away. At times, the sea lions seemed to pause and appear somewhat overwhelmed at the sight of so many fish within easy reach, as this young sea lion seemed to be doing
© Simon Temple (UK). Big and Small Underwater Faces — 2nd Place
This is a common goby, Pomatoschistus microps, inside an urchin shell. The goby is tending eggs laid on the inside the shell. I captured this image while diving in the marine protected area of Loch Carron in Scotland. Quite often the shells are covered with an unattractive layer of algae however, this shell was incredibly fresh and full of colour and obviously caught my eye!
© Adriano Morettin (Italy). Big and Small Underwater Faces — 3rd Place
During a photographic dive in the Lembeh Strait, Indonesia, last September I saw that on a branch of soft coral there were some porcelain crabs (Lissoporcellana quadrilobata) that moved continuously. Observing them carefully, I realized that they always stopped in the usual places and that they often approached others of their kind. At this point I pointed my camera with the snoot mounted on the flash at a section of the soft coral where I had also seen 3 or 4 porcelain crabs together and waited until I was able to take this shot
© Andy Schmid (Switzerland). Underwater Seascapes — Winner
A female Orca splitting a Herring Bait Ball while diving through it to get one, shot from underneath while freediving. Every winter enormous schools of Herring migrate from the open ocean into the fjords of Northern Norway and attract large numbers of big predators such as Orcas and Humpback Whales. Witnessing Orcas feeding on Herring using the so-called carousel feeding technique is very exciting but not easy to capture due to various factors: limited light and visibility, fast paced action plus cold surface and water temperature. Being able to freedive and capture the action on an ongoing feeding frenzy in these conditions is difficult but this winter I managed to create a series of photos I had never dreamt of capturing
© Mayumi Takeuchi-Ebbins (UK). Underwater Seascapes — 2nd Place
This is a huge bloom for Moon jellyfish from Alaska. A female Moon jellyfish become ready for mating, she will change colour to pink or purple. It is very difficult to find mating female jellyfish from crowd and I was looking for female pretty long time but I knew there is mating ready female while I was in Alaska. Finally I could find only one pink female and lots of male jellyfish were chasing this pink bride
© Simon Biddie (UK). Underwater Seascapes — 3rd Place
California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) are playful and social. In Los Islotes, Mexico, the island can be surrounded by a dense shoal of sardines, and here, a mother sea lion plays with two sea lion pups. The colony at Los Islotes is unique in the area - estimated at 400 - 800 individuals, it is one of the most stable colonies in the area with sea lion numbers rising. This is due to strict laws and protections as Los Islotes as part of the Espiritu Santo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005 and a National Marine Park in 2007
© Fan Ping (China). Underwater Seascapes — Honorable Mention
Cenote The Pit, one of the largest underwater caverns in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, in its tranquility. All the underwater cave systems are closely connected to the ocean, as well as to the lives of people living on this land. Any destruction to these cenotes can lead to more serious problems in the whole system, and conserving them is to protect ourselves
2023 marked the tenth annual Photo Competition for UN World Oceans Day, with the theme ‘Planet Ocean: Tides are Changing.’ Complementing the World Oceans Day celebration at the UN Headquarters in New York, this year’s milestone competition draws on the power of the arts in support of the theme’s call to action to put the ocean first.
The Photo Competition for UN World Oceans Day Photo is a free and open-to-the-public competition coordinated in collaboration between the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, DivePhotoGuide (DPG), Oceanic Global, Nausicaa and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. The 10th anniversary competition presents a unique opportunity for photographers to showcase the immense breadth and depth of the ocean’s beauty as well as to shed light on the lesser known promise and potential brimming beneath its waves. This year, submissions were welcomed under the following six categories:
The annual competition is curated by underwater photographer Ellen Cuylaerts and judged by a jury of world-renowned photographers. This year is no exception, with the 2023 jury boasting celebrated names: wildlife photographer Rathika Ramasamy (India), wildlife photographer Rajan Desai (USA), underwater fine art wildlife photographer Ipah Uid Lynn (Malaysia), and photographer and filmmaker Antoine Janssens (Switzerland).
Winning submissions from this year’s competition will be announced during the annual UN World Oceans Day event on June 8th as well as broadcast live on UNTV. Register to watch the virtual broadcast of the 2023 Winner Announcement on June 8th as presented by curator Ellen Cuylaerts.
I, working in the underwater realm, commit myself to the following code of ethics and bringing education and awareness around my encounters, to help preserve our oceans and blue planet!
Note on photo manipulation: Post-processing images is allowed. This includes global adjustments to exposure, contrast, burning, dodging, cropping, sharpening, noise reduction, and tone. Minor cleaning of images is permitted, including the removal of backscatter, dust and scratches. HDR, panoramas, focus stacking or other techniques that involve using multiple images taken at the same time and place are also allowed.
Adding, removing or moving animals, people, plants or other objects is not allowed. For example, moving a fish, removing a reef element or adding a glow to a divers torch is not acceptable.
While digital manipulation is permitted, please keep in mind this not a Photoshop competition. All images should accurately represent the subject matter and nature. Images that appear to be overly processed may be disqualified at the judges’ discretion.
Note: Entrants should retain high-resolution and RAW files, if applicable, of their submissions. In the event your submission is selected as a finalist or winner, you will be asked to submit a high-resolution image for printing and display, and, if applicable, a RAW image to check if adjustments made to the image comply with the rules.
Ipah Uid Lynn is an award-winning professional photographer born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Her creative photography work has been recognized in numerous prestigious international competitions, and her images have been published in print and online dive publications all over the world.
Ipah is a regular speaker at international dive shows. Her love and passion for the underwater world inspires her to educate people about the challenges we face in protecting our oceans and the importance of conserving marine ecosystems for future generations.
Rajan Desai became interested in photography at the age of 15 when his uncle gave him a point-and-shoot camera. He became serious about the pursuit when he read the book Photography for the Joy of It by Freeman Patterson and completed the Mass Audubon Birder’s Certificate Program to learn about birds, their habitats, migration patterns, and more.
Rajan is keen to experience the hidden wonders in nature all over the world and is passionate about capturing images that tell a story about the natural world around us.
Rathika Ramasamy is one of India’s foremost wildlife photographers. Her work has been featured in several exhibitions and numerous national and international publications. She is the founder of the RR Foundation for Wildlife Conservation (RRFWC), a non-profit that organizes photography workshops to help students understand the value of biodiversity and sustainability.
Rathika has served on the jury panel of many national and international photography contests, including the National Photography Awards, instituted by the Government of India. For her, wildlife photography is not only a passion, but also a powerful medium to connect people with nature and help motivate the conservation of the natural world.
Growing up, he had a desire to see the world, which drove him to explore vast landscapes, interact with thousands of animal species, meet different people, and learn from global cultures. In doing so, Antoine developed a passion for storytelling that drove him to create films and pursue photography to share all his passions with the world.
If your organization would be interested in supporting the Annual World Oceans Day Photo Contest please contact us here.
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