A French biologist has beaten 50,000 entries to win this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year for his shot of grouper fish exiting a milky cloud of eggs and sperm in French Polynesia.
Underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta won the award from the UK's National History Museum yesterday for his image, Creation.
The photo of camouflage groupers was taken in the coral reefs of Fakarava in the Pacific Ocean.
Photos from 95 countries were entered in the competition.
Laurent and his team returned to the same lagoon every year, for five years, diving day and night so as not to miss the annual spawning that only takes place around the full moon in July.
After dark, they were joined by hundreds of grey reef sharks, hunting the groupers in packs.
Chair of the judging panel Rosamund Kidman Cox OBE said Laurent's winning image works on so many levels.
"It is surprising, energetic, and intriguing and has an otherworldly beauty," Cox said.
"It also captures a magical moment –a truly explosive creation of life –leaving the tail-end of the exodus of eggs hanging for a moment like a symbolic question mark.'
Overfishing threatens this vulnerable grouper species.
Natural History Museum director Dr Doug Gurr said this year's Grand Title winner reveals "a fleeting moment of fascinating animal behaviour that very few have witnessed".
"In what could be a pivotal year for the planet, with vital discussions taking place at COP15 and COP26 [United Nations Climate Change Conferences], Laurent Ballesta's Creation is a compelling reminder of what we stand to lose if we do not address humanity's impact on our planet," Gurr said.
Ten-year old Vidyun R Hebbar was awarded the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 for his colourful image, Dome home, of a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by.
Vidyun first featured in the competition when he was just 8, and said he loves to photograph the often-over looked creatures in the streets and parks near his home in the city of Bengaluru, India.
Dr Natalie Cooper, a researcher with the Natural History Museum and jury member, said Hebbar's photo "is a great reminder to look more closely at the small animals we live with every day, and to take your camera with you everywhere. You never know where that award-winning image is going to come from."
One hundred images from the competition will be showcased at the National History Museum in London.