Antarctic seals win International photography prize

A balletic photograph of crabeater seals swirling around an iceberg sees French photographer, Greg Lecoeur, named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2020. Lecoeur’s photograph triumphed over 5500 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from 70 countries around the world.

To shoot “Frozen Mobile Home” Lecouer travelled to Antarctica on a small yacht, enabling him to document the wildlife on icebergs as they drift at the whim of polar currents. “Massive and mysterious habitats,” explains Lecoeur, “little is known about how wildlife thrives around these mobile homes. Icebergs fertilise the oceans by carrying nutrients from land that spark blooms of marine life and also provide homes for larger animals, like these crabeater seals.” Lecoeur lives in Nice, France, but works full time as a photographer, travelling the world documenting life in the oceans.

Chair of the competition judges, Dr Alexander Mustard MBE, commented “The motion of these seals and the ethereal landscape of the pitted iceberg takes our eyes on a journey through the frame and transports us to the icy ocean of Antarctica.

Pasquale Vassallo / UPY2020K

In the same contest, Italian photographer Pasquale Vassallo, was named Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2020 for his photo, revealing the final moments of a tuna’s life as it is hauled up towards a fishing boat. Vassallo took the photo “Last Dawn, Last Gasp” in the Mediterranean Sea, near his hometown of Naples.  

“This winter I accompanied some local fishermen,” explains Vassallo. “Diving at dawn, I followed the nets as they were hauled up from the depths, revealing a conveyor belt of dead and dying wildlife, such as this little tunny tuna gasping for life.”  

Competition judge Peter Rowlands commented “If a picture paints a thousand words, then a great one asks a thousand questions.” Judge Mustard continues “the ocean faces many threats, including climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution, and the conservation section of the Underwater Photographer of the Year gives a platform for the photographers, who are our eyes in and on the ocean seeing these issues first-hand. Much of what happens in the oceans goes unseen, but such powerful images help make more of us aware.” 

Anita Kainrath / UPY2020K

The Underwater Photographer of the Year competition also aims to promote new photographic talent. Anita Kainrath, from Austria, was named as Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2020 for an uplifting picture of baby lemon sharks thriving in a mangrove in the Bahamas. Her image “Shark Nursery” is not only beautiful, but it shows how important mangroves are, not just for protecting tropical coastlines, but also in the lives of endangered species. Kainrath, from Vienna, explains the challenges in producing the image “I was standing in knee-high water, trying to hold my camera still, waiting for the sharks, while mosquitoes and sand-flies were feasting on me! After about an hour the lemon shark pups finally came into photographic range and I was able to make this image.

Judge Rowlands commented “Her perseverance has definitely paid off with a beautifully balanced and observed image.”

Nicholas More / UPY2020K

The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest is based in the UK, and makes two awards specifically to British photographers. Nick More, from Devon (England) was named as British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2020 for his pop-art style photograph “Rabbitfish Zoom Blur” taken in Indonesia. “I created this effect in camera,” explains More, “by zooming my lens at the same time as I hit the shutter. My flash has frozen the central fish while the ambient light is blurred by the zooming.”

Nur Tucker / UPY2020K

The title of Most Promising British Underwater Photographer 2020 goes to Nur Tucker from Wimbledon, London (England) for an artistic panning photo of a seahorse. Her creative image “Commotion in the Ocean” uses an in-camera double exposure to create a feeling of waves surrounding this seahorse. Tucker explains “I love experimenting and I have tried many different techniques, with varying degrees of success! After many attempts, everything came together with this shot.”

About Underwater Photographer of the Year
Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual competition, based in the UK, that celebrates photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools. British photographer Phil Smith was the first underwater Photographer of the Year, named in 1965. Today’s competition attracts entries from all around the world, has 13 categories, testing photographers with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck photography, as well as four categories for photos taken specifically in British waters. This year’s judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Martin Edge and Alex Mustard.

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