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'Once in a lifetime' Curio Bay photo in World Ocean Photographer 2021

Thomas Bywater

Thomas Bywater is a writer and digital producer for Herald Travel

A window into mysterious underwater worlds has been opened up through the lenses of the world's best marine photographers.

The winning image of the Ocean Photographer of the Year 2021 has captured one of the oceans most threatened animals at the perfect moment.

The perfectly composed turtle, surrounded by a frame of glass fish, was snapped by the camera of Aimee Jan in Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef.

The Winning Photographer described how she took the image while diving with a colleague.

"When I dived down to look, the fish separated around the turtle perfectly. I said to her: 'I think I just took the best photo I have ever taken'," she told Nine News.

Photo of the Year 2021 winner: A green sea turtle surrounded by glass fish on Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. Photo / Aimee Jan, the Ocean Photographer of the Year 2021
Photo of the Year 2021 winner: A green sea turtle surrounded by glass fish on Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. Photo / Aimee Jan, the Ocean Photographer of the Year 2021

Jan's image was chosen from a submission of thousands from every corner of our blue planet. Runners-up included a dynamic shot of Scottish Gannets fishing off the Shetland Islands taken by Henley Spiers and, in third place, a freshly hatched Hawksbill turtle taking its first swim by Sydney photographer Matty Smith.

Produced by the Oceanographic Magazine, and with sponsors Tourism Western Australia and SeaLegacy marine conservation, the awards aim to "shine a light on the beauty of the ocean and the threats it faces"

Awards judge and founder of SeaLegacy, Cristina Mittermeier thanked the photographers and said she hoped the images have as much impact on viewers as they did on her fellow panellists.

Runner up: Henley Spiers' diving gannets off the Shetland Islands, Scotland. Photo / Henley Spiers, OPY 2021
Runner up: Henley Spiers' diving gannets off the Shetland Islands, Scotland. Photo / Henley Spiers, OPY 2021

"We spent a lot of time discussing the power these images have to inspire people all over the world to advocate for ocean protection. We also spent a considerable amount of time admiring the incredible artistry. Thank you to everyone who entered, and congratulations to this year's finalists."

In its second year, the awards have shone a light into every corner of the ocean.

This included a spectacular luminescent squid in Victoria and the underwater caves of Quintana Roo in Mexico, as captured by winner Martin Broen.

Exploration category winner: Deep dive into the most mysterious parts of the ocean,  Martin Broen, OPY 2021
Exploration category winner: Deep dive into the most mysterious parts of the ocean, Martin Broen, OPY 2021

Equally impressive surf breaks captured the imagination of the public and judges. Ben Thouard's image of Matahi Drolle in Tahiti's big waves won the 2021 Adventure Photography category, with Phil De Glanville also catching a break as the winner of the Community Choice category.

A seahorse clings to a surgical mask. Photo / Nicholas Samaras, OPY 2021
A seahorse clings to a surgical mask. Photo / Nicholas Samaras, OPY 2021

The most impactful on these images might be in the Ocean Conservation category.

Wildlife caught in man-made ocean waste was darkly captivating and tragic.

Health check for our oceans: Steven Kovak's image of a smoking fish was a runner up in the Conservation category. Photo / Steven Kovak, OPY 2021
Health check for our oceans: Steven Kovak's image of a smoking fish was a runner up in the Conservation category. Photo / Steven Kovak, OPY 2021

A seahorse attached to a surgical facemask by Nicholas Samaras and a photo by Steven Kovacs of a lizardfish dragging on a cigarette butt helped capture the current threats to the health of our oceans.

Once in a lifetime glimpse into rare NZ penguin

Invercargill-based photographer Kimball Chen got a special mention for his "once in a lifetime" image of an endangered yellow eyed penguin under the Aurora Australis.

"I was joking to my wife, 'wow it would be so nice if we could get all these factors to cooperate.'"

'Once in a lifetime' new Zealand Kimball Chen took this aurora image at Curio Bay. Photo / Kimball Chen, OPY 2021
'Once in a lifetime' new Zealand Kimball Chen took this aurora image at Curio Bay. Photo / Kimball Chen, OPY 2021

Taken at the popular tourism spot of Curio Bay on the Catlins coastline any visitor will tell you the nocturnal penguins are hard to spot. Kimball says getting a glimpse of the birds is all about timing.

"The penguins usually show up pretty close to sunset, around 2 hours before. This can be really late when it is warm, closer to dusk. Or after the sun goes down."

There was no manipulation, one photo, and a lot of luck, said the photographer.

"The technology is amazing these days for the high ISO."

Showing one of the world's rarest penguins, the stellar photo was shortlisted for the Conservation award.

According to Dunedin's Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust the Hoiho is nationally endangered with fewer than 300 breeding pairs left in the country.