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Gathering of Giant Whale Sharks is World’s Best Underwater Photograph

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An astounding photo of five whale sharks, feeding together at night in the waters of the Maldives sees Rafael Fernandez Caballero from Spain named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022. Fernandez’s photograph triumphed over 4200 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from 71 countries. The photo captures a unique ocean event, taken in demanding photographic conditions.

© Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY2022

“Giants Of The Night” features five whale sharks, the biggest fish in the world, feeding together on nocturnal plankton that have been concentrated in the lights of a boat. “It was already incredible when one whale shark came to our boat,” explains Fernandez. “But more and more kept arriving. I was diving with Gador Muntaner, a shark researcher, who couldn’t believe it as their numbers grew. He counted 11 sharks that night – a once in a lifetime encounter that nobody thought was possible.”

Competition judge, Peter Rowlands, commented, “this image took my breath away from the first viewing and I never tired coming back to it. Scale, light and the sheer numbers of big subjects, this was, by some distance, our winning image.” Judge Alex Mustard added, “photography needs light and simply recording these giants in a dark ocean is a massive achievement. To do this with such beautiful light and careful composition of the five sharks is outstanding.”

Restriction on travel over the last year may have stopped many photographers visiting their favourite waters, but it hasn’t stifled their creativity,” commented judge Mustard. “The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest aims to celebrate underwater photography in all its forms and we are delighted that many of this year’s awarded images come from home countries and some are even taken in swimming pools.”

The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest is based in the UK, and Matty Smith, an Englishman now living in Australia, was named as British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 for a portrait of a great white shark taken in the Neptune Islands, South Australia.

© Matthew Smith/UPY2022

To produce “Great White Split” Smith build a special supersize dome port for his camera, as well as a carbon pole and remote trigger to allow him to get this revealing perspective. “I had wanted to shoot a charismatic over/under portrait for years,” explained Smith. “Some techniques I had previously tried failed terribly, so this time I designed and constructed my own equipment to get the camera exactly where I wanted. Surprisingly, the sharks were instantly attracted to the camera, in fact it was a battle to stop them biting it!

Competition judge, Tobias Friedrich commented “this split shot of the most famous fish in the sea, truly captures its character. An excellent reward for the perseverance of the photographer, experimenting with different techniques until he got the result he wanted.

In the same contest, Thien Nguyen Ngoc from the Vietnam was named “The Save Our Seas Foundation” Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2022 for his aerial photo “Big Appetite”. The photo shows boats straining the waters for anchovies in the Phu Yen province of Vietnam.

© Thien Nguyen Ngoc/UPY2022

Salted anchovy is the most important raw material in traditional Vietnamese fish sauce,” said Nguyen Ngoc, “but these little fish are a keystone of the ecosystem. The reserves and catches of anchovies have decreased by 20-30% in the past 10 years. When they are overfished, the whales, tunas, sea birds and other marine predators face starvation and critical population declines.”

Competition judge Rowlands commented “a stark visual reminder of man’s reach and control over the surrounding habitat and its devastating effect on the natural balance.” Mustard added “the mouths of these nets dwarf the people casting them, and the tight composition speaks about our squeeze on nature.”

The Underwater Photographer of the Year competition also aims to promote new photographic talent. Quico Abadal, from Spain, was named as Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 for a creative image “Supernova In Paradise”

© Francisco Abadal Ramon/UPY2022

Adabal’s photo was taken at sunset off Sairee Beach, Koh Tao, Thailand and is purposely shown upside down.  “This photo features Jeniya, who moves so poetically in the water,” explained Abadal.  “What I like about this photograph is the imperfection of backscatter in the dark water, creating the feeling of outer space and making it perfect to me.”

Judge Mustard explains the reasons for the photo’s success, “in this category we are always looking for exciting new talent bringing fresh visions to underwater photography. This image is a fabulous example. Simple subject matter, elevated into an artistic image by the imagination, ideas and talent of the photographer and model.”

Gallery of all the Category Winners

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, Tobias Friedrich and Dr Alexander Mustard MBE.

Visit the UPY website.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Mares EOS LRZ Torch Range

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What does LRZ stand for I hear you ask? The answer is: LED lights, Rechargeable, Zoomable. Mares have created a versatile set of seven underwater lights in the new range to suit all needs and budgets.

I tested the most powerful of them – the EOS 32LRZ at Capernwray on a cold but bright spring day. I was diving with Alex Mustard, and so all the underwater images are by him, showing me trying out the torch in both the shallows and in some of the wrecks at this site.

All the torches in the new line have an LED visual battery charge indicator that allows you to keep the battery level under control.

Want to use it out of the water? No problem! The new EOS LRZ torches feature an innovative temperature control system that allows you to use them both underwater and on land. I can see myself using this on gloomy dog walks later in the year!

As you can see from the video I filmed just after getting back from a dive, the torch is easy to use, even with thick gloves in cold water. The zoomable light beam means that you can highlight a particular spot, or have a wide beam, which is great for both modeling for a photographer, and exploring different underwater environments.

The EOS 32LRZ has a powerful beam with 3200 lumens of power and 135 minutes of burn time. Perfect for some of the darker dives you can experience in the UK, but also for exploring overhead or enclosed environments. I easily got 2 long dives out of a single charge, and then was able to recharge it in my car using a USB cable on the way home, ready for the next day of diving.

The look and feel of these torches are great. In your hand you can feel the quality of the torches. They are solid and well built. They also look great. Each torch in the range comes with a padded case to keep them safe during transport.

For more, visit the Mares website by clicking here.

All underwater images by Alex Mustard

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Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World launches Green Fins Japan!

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The Reef-World Foundation, the Onna Village Diving Association, the local government, and Oceana are delighted to announce that Japan is now the 14th country globally to implement the Green Fins initiative – a UN Environment Programme initiative. Onna Village in Okinawa is the first Japanese tourist destination to adopt Green Fins environmental standards to reduce the threats associated with diving and snorkelling on the marine environment.

Green Fins is piloted in Onna Village, Okinawa prefecture, an area renowned for its marine sports and has been working to protect its reefs for many years. Green Fins is implemented as part of the national Sustainable Development Goals project, which aims to manage and illustrate to the local industry how sustainable tourism can play a role in reef conservation. The economic benefits of the reefs benefit not only the fisheries industry but also the tourism industry as it has rocketed in recent decades.

If the project is successful – proving the value of sustainable tourism – the model has the potential to be escalated to a national level. A wide rollout would allow Reef-World to focus on uptake and expansion into other marine tourism and biodiversity hotspots across Japan. Green Fins implementation in Japan would provide practical solutions to many of the common problems faced in the area. It would also help to promote high standards for diving in the country. Improving the quality of the diving industry through Green Fins would demonstrate the added value of Onna Village’s tourism product. This, in turn, will encourage tourists to spend more time and money diving in the region.

Following a week of training by Reef-World (23 to 28 May 2022), Japan now has a national Green Fins team comprised of four fully certified Green Fins Assessors and two Green Fins Coordinators from Oceana and the local government. They will be responsible for recruiting, assessing, training and certifying dive and snorkel operators to become Green Fins members in the country. This involves providing training about the ecology and threats to coral reefs, simple and local everyday solutions to these threats and Green Fins’ environmental standards to dive and snorkel operators. Green Fins membership will help marine tourism operators improve their sustainability and prove they are working hard to follow environmental best practices as a way of attracting eco-minded tourists.

James Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We are really excited to finally introduce Green Fins in Japan. We have been planning this for almost three years, but the travel restrictions related to the pandemic hindered progress. The diving industry in Okinawa and the marine life upon which it has been built is so unique, it must be preserved for generations to come. The Okinawa diving community is very passionate about protecting their marine environment, and Green Fins has given them an opportunity to collectively work to reduce their environmental impact and pursue exemplary environmental standards.”

Diving and snorkelling related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, is becoming an increasingly significant issue. This damage makes them less likely to survive other local and wider stressors, such as overfishing or plastic debris and the effects of climate change. Based on robust individual assessments, the Green Fins initiative helps identify and mitigate these risks by providing environmental consultation and support to dive and snorkel operators. Through Green Fins implementation in Japan, Reef-World aims to reduce negative environmental impacts in the region by reaching 10 marine tourism operators, training 50 dive guides and raising awareness of sustainability best practices among 10,000 tourists in the first year.

Yuta Kawamoto, CEO of Oceana, said: “Green Fins will help to unify all the conservation efforts in Okinawa by applying the guidelines in many areas and raising tourists awareness. We hope this will increase the sustainable value in the diving industry and in turn increase the diving standards in the country.”

Green Fins is a UN Environment Programme initiative, internationally coordinated by The Reef-World Foundation, which aims to protect and conserve coral reefs through environmentally friendly guidelines to promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling tourism industry. Green Fins provides the only internationally recognised environmental standards for the diving and snorkelling industry and has a robust assessment system to measure compliance.

To date, four dive operators in Onna Village have joined the global network of 600+ trained and assessed Green Fins members. These are: Benthos Divers, Okinawa Diving Center, Arch Angel and Pink Marlin Club. There has also been significant interest from other operators, even those that are not located in Onna Village, for Green Fins training and assessment.

Suika Tsumita from Oceana said: “Green Fins serve as an important tool for local diving communities to move towards a more sustainable use of their dive sites; so that they can maintain their scenic beauty and biological richness to provide livelihoods for many generations to come.”

For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org or  www.greenfins.net/countries/japan. Dive and snorkel operators interested in signing up for Green Fins can find the membership application form at: www.greenfins.net/how-to-join.

Dive and snorkel operators in Japan interested in signing up to be Green Fins members can contact the Green Fins Japan team at japan@greenfins.net.

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