15 World Oceans Day Photo Contest Winners Show the Beauty of the Sea

Two sea birds swim underwater amidst a large, swirling school of silvery fish. The sunlight filters through the water, illuminating the scene. The ocean floor is visible below, consisting of rocky formations.

To celebrate World Oceans Day 2024 on June 8, the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea has revealed the winners of its 11th annual photo competition coordinated in collaboration with DivePhotoGuide, non-profit Oceanic Global, and other partners

Update 6/10: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to World Ocean Day, a “rival” event funded by The Ocean Foundation. However, the photo contest in question is part of the UN’s World Oceans Day initiative.

This year’s photo contest featured five categories exploring this year’s theme, “Awaken new depths.” The winners unveiled at today’s UN World Oceans Day 2024 event at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, were selected by a panel of renowned judges, including photographer Tom St. George, explorer Julia Gugelmeier, photographer Mohamed Rifshan Shaheem, and photographer Mayumi Takeuchi-Ebbins. The five jurors picked the top three winners in each category from thousands of entries.

The winning photographers hail from nine countries and are all featured below, organized by category.

Awaken New Depths

Five scuba divers work together underwater to remove a large fishing net from the ocean. They are wearing full diving gear, including wetsuits and tanks, and are pulling the net toward a red buoyancy bag to bring it to the surface. The water around them is clear and blue.
© Renae Grinnell Capozzola — First Place

“This large discarded fishing net was found lying on the reef at about 30 meters in Kona, Hawaii,” says Grinnell Capozzola. “Volunteers from Ocean Defenders Alliance, also known as ODA, brought up this net by working closely together, using lift bags, and the net was then raised onto a boat provided by Kona Honu Divers. Earlier that day ODA had raised and extracted large volumes of fishing line (ultimately filling large buckets for removal) that had been snarled upon the reef. Unfortunately, our ocean suffers from large amounts of debris, which can destroy reefs, entangle marine life, and release harmful chemicals. Many thanks to organizations such as ODA for helping to clean our ocean and preserve marine ecosystems for future generations.”

A scuba diver swims underwater near a rocky seabed with greenish lighting. The diver is close to large nets filled with numerous purple sea urchins. Some loose sea urchins are scattered on the seafloor.
© Patrick Webster — Second Place
A person wearing a white glove gently holds a baby sea turtle on a sandy beach, while another turtle crawls nearby. The scene is bathed in warm, golden light, suggesting early morning or late afternoon.
© Sina Ritter — Third Place

Underwater Seascapes

Underwater scene featuring a school of fish forming a swirling pattern, with several sea birds diving amongst them. The rocky sea floor is visible in the background, showing a captivating interaction between the birds and fish in the ocean.
© Taryn Schulz — First Place

“I traveled to Baja California hoping to witness the Mobula munkiana aggregation. One day we found a vortex of them in deep, blue waters,” says the winning photographer, Taryn Schulz. “They were circling and swimming in union. It felt like a beautiful, hypnotic dance. Seeing such big aggregations can lead to think that their populations are doing well. Unfortunately, Mobula munkiana are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list.”

Underwater scene with multiple cuttlefish swimming over a colorful, rocky seabed with kelp and other marine plants. Sunlight filters through the water, creating beams of light that illuminate the vibrant underwater environment.
© Daniel Sly — Second Place
A large school of mobula rays swims together in the deep blue ocean. The rays, resembling a cluster of gliding diamond shapes, create a mesmerizing pattern as they move synchronously through the water. Sunlight penetrates the water, illuminating the scene.
© Vanessa Mignon — Third Place

Small Island Developing States

A group of children play on and around a partly submerged mangrove tree in a tropical body of water. One child is captured mid-air, jumping into the water, while others are climbing the tree or standing in the water. The sky is partly cloudy with a warm, golden light.
© Andrea Marandino — First Place

Marandino, who won first and second place in this category, captured the image above in the Solomon Islands. Like many villages on islands, this village is only slightly above sea level and, therefore, particularly susceptible to rising ocean levels. The village also depends on the surrounding coral reefs for food security and coral reefs face an existential threat.

A person wearing a red headscarf crouches in shallow water during low tide, gathering shellfish. The sunrise or sunset creates a warm glow, reflecting off the water. Rocks are scattered around, and a red pail sits nearby on a white platform.
© Andrea Marandino — Second Place
Aerial view of a small, densely populated island with structures clustered on the right side. The island features lush green vegetation on the left side, surrounded by clear, turquoise water with visible reefs. The shoreline is irregular and partially fringed by mangroves.
© Stuart Chape — Third Place

Big and Small Underwater Faces

A close-up image of a leafy seadragon, a marine fish resembling a seahorse with elaborate, leaf-like appendages. The creature has a yellowish hue and is set against a stark black background, making its intricate details prominent.
© Mathieu Macias — First Place

The winning image by Mathieu Macias shows a juvenile Football Octopus (Ocythoe tuberculata). The octopus species usually lives about 200 meters below the surface, although young ones occasionally travel closer to the water’s surface.

“I saw a handful in salps on this day at the Poor Knights Islands off New Zealand’s northeastern coast, but this was the only free swimming juvenile I encountered,” the photographer explains.

Two fish nestled within vibrant, swirling coral formations underwater. The scene is rich with shades of green and blue, creating a dynamic and colorful underwater environment. The fish appear to be peeking out from their coral shelters.
© George Kuowei Kao — Second Place
A small, vibrant orange octopus with translucent, tentacle-like appendages is captured against a dark, underwater background. The octopus has a visible red eye and intricate details on its body, creating a striking contrast with the surrounding aquatic environment.
© Irene Middleton — Third Place

Above Water Seascapes

A tranquil shoreline under a starry sky is illuminated by vibrant green and purple hues of the Northern Lights. The vivid aurora reflects off the water and wet stones, creating a mesmerizing and colorful display in the serene natural landscape.
© Michael Sswat — First Place

“A fisherman tries to catch the daily food for his family using a traditional technique in Myanmar,” says Sswat. “The picture was taken on the lake Inle in 2019. I was lucky with the nice warm lights which give a nice extra touch, a glory to this beautiful moment.”

A serene ocean scene with a group of sharks swimming in the clear blue water. Above, a dark raincloud pours rain creating a rainbow that stretches across the sky, juxtaposed with white fluffy clouds in the background. The water reflects the vibrant colors.
© Emmett Sparling — Second Place
A person wearing a conical hat is casting a fishing net into the water from a boat under a rocky overhang. Sunlight filters through the trees and reflects off the water, creating a serene and picturesque scene.
© Romeo Bodolai — Third Place

For more information on World Oceans Day 2024, visit the UN’s website. Additional information on diving, underwater photography, and great marine travel destinations is available on Dive Photo Guide‘s website.

Image credits: Photos courtesy of Dive Photo Guide. Individual photographers are credited in the image captions. Featured image © Taryn Schulz.