Celebrating our beautiful blue planet, the Ocean Photographer of the Year Award serves as both a platform for stunning underwater photography as well as raising awareness of issues affecting our seas and oceans. With £500,000 (approximately $555,000 / AU$868,000) available in cash prizes, the chance to be featured in an exhibition in London, plus a trip to Western Australia for the winner – not to mention the honor of winning – there are certainly a lot of incentives to enter.
Judging the competition are some of the world's leading ocean photographers, videographers and passionate conversations. Acclaimed photographer, filmmaker and author Paul Nicklen is joined by the likes of Cristina Mittermeier (opens in new tab), Andy Mann and Sadie Quarrier of National Geographic, just to name a few.
• These are the best underwater housing for cameras and phones (opens in new tab)
This year the competition was broken into broad nine categories in a mission to stay as inclusive as possible, and ensure the bravest and boldest photographers have space for their work.
They include two Conservation categories based on hope and impact, plus one on an Adventure, Wildlife, Fine Art, and the Ocean Portfolio that recognizes a long-term commitment to ocean conservation. For budding photographers there is a Youth category, the Human Connection Award looks at how humans interact with the ocean, and finally the Female Fifty Fathoms category celebrates inspirational women in ocean photography.
Ben Thouard (opens in new tab) from French Polynesia was crowned this year's overall winner for capturing the moment a surfer got wiped out by one of the heaviest waves in the world, known as 'Teahupo', which translates to 'place of skulls'. "This is an unseen part of surfing," says Thouard. "I have so much respect for both the wave and the surfers, surfing such a heavy wave is a huge challenge."
In second place was Katherine Lu (opens in new tab), with her mesmerizing shot of a blanket octopus showing off its dazzling colors and patterns. Getting the photo wasn’t easy, as Katherine Lu explains, but the persistence paid off in the end.
"I was very sick during this dive. I spent a lot of time trying to equalize near the surface. When my guide frantically signaled for me to come down I hesitated for a moment but went for it, pushing myself down. Luckily my ears equalized and there before my eyes was this beautiful blanket octopus. We swam alongside her and then like magic, she opened up her blanket to shower herself in all her glory."
A well-timed photo of a cormorant hunting a shoal of baitfish creating the shape of a human face came in third. "This image was made under the oil rig platform, Ellen, Off Los Angeles, California," says US-based photographer Brook Peterson (opens in new tab). "There was a large school of baitfish under the platform for several weeks and, as a result, numerous other animals there to feed off the baitfish – sea lions, bonita, and cormorants. The image depicts a cormorant hunting through a large bait ball."
Ocean Photographer of the Year is run by Oceanographic, a magazine dedicated to ocean conservation with 20% of its profits donated to partner charities such as Sea Legacy. If you want to find out more about how you can help, subscribe to Oceanographic (opens in new tab) via their website or head to the Ocean Photographer of the Year page to see this year's winners' gallery (opens in new tab).