Stunning photo of alien-like life form wins Ocean Photographer of the Year 2023

Ocean Photographer of the Year 2023
Overall winner, A Paper Nautilus drifts on a piece of ocean debris at night, surrounded by heavy sediment, Philippines (Image credit: Jialing Cai)

Jialing Cai, a 25-year-old marine biologist and amateur photographer has been awarded Ocean Photographer of the Year 2023. Her top-prize-winning capture of a paper nautilus gracefully gliding on a piece of ocean debris was taken during a blackwater dive following a volcanic eruption in the Philippines. Cai has been awarded a £1,500 cash prize, the opportunity to join an Ocean Census expedition, an Instagram takeover at SeaLegacy plus more. 

Cai's journey into the realm of blackwater photography was ignited by her fascination with diel vertical migration, where zooplankton ascends from the deep ocean to the surface under the cover of night. She recalls her moment of revelation, saying, "That hit me like lightning. My professor was telling me the deep sea was within my reach, that it would come to me. That realization was mind-blowing. It's why I've become so obsessed with blackwater photography."

• Check out the best underwater housing - perfect for taking high-res photos beneath the waves

2nd place, A crab sits in the centre of a sea anemone as it sways in ocean current, Philippines (Image credit: Andrei Savin)

The top three entries stood out against thousands of submissions showcasing the undeniable beauty and fragility of marine life. Andrei Savin secured second place with his astonishing image of a crab nestled amidst the vibrant tentacles of a sea anemone while third place was awarded to Alvaro Herrero Lopez-Beltran for his poignant image of an entangled whale, a stark reminder of the perils our oceans face.

In the fine art category, Jade Hoksbergen came out on top impressive the judges with her image of a whale shark and its entourage of remoras titled The Maldives. Todd Glaser's aerial shot of a group of surfers beneath a rainbow at the famous Benzai Pipeline landed him first place in the adventure category while Gergo Rugli placed second with another surf shot and Franco Banfi followed behind in third with a capture of a scuba diver in East Greenland. 

Fine art category winner  (Image credit: Jade Hoksbergen)

Sylvie Ayer was awarded winner of the conservation: hope category for her photo of a manatee enjoying the crystal clear waters of the Homosassa River while Florian Ledoux was crowned the winner of conservation: impact for his image of a polar bear cub on fragile ice. In the young photographer's category. In the Young Photographer's category, Jarvis Small came first with his capture of a bodyboarder paddling out to sea. 

Adventure category winner, While surfing North Shore’s famous Banzai Pipeline, a rainbow appears, O’ahu, Hawaii (Image credit: Todd Glaser)

Ocean Photographer of the Year 2023

Second place in wildlife, A gentoo penguin, the fastest penguin species in the world, charges across the water, Antarctica (Image credit: Craig Parry)

Ocean Photographer of the Year 2023

Second place in young photographers category - Like a bolt of lightning piercing through black clouds, this small common squid shoots off and jets a plume of ink into the water, England (Image credit: Aaron Sanders)

Ocean Photographer of the Year 2023

Third place overall - A whale struggles on, its flukes severely damaged as a result of continued entanglement, Mexico (Image credit: Alvaro Lopez)

In total, prizes worth more than £500,000 have been awarded to the overall and category winners which include a range of cash prizes, experiences,  inclusion in Oceanographic Magazine, and an exhibition taking place in Sydney. 

The OPOTYA is more important now than ever, as it not only does highlights the relationship humans have with the ocean, it also highlights the difficulties it faces often due to human impact. 

Each year the OPOTYA donates 20% of its profits to its partner charities working on crucial conservation projects all over the world. To view the full gallery of winning images head to the Oceanographic website

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.