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Sunset Dance of Sharks and Gulls Wins Underwater Photographer of the Year

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A graceful photograph of blacktip reef sharks cruising beneath sea gulls at sunset in French Polynesia sees Renee Capozzola from the United States named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021. Capozzola’s photograph triumphed over 4500 underwater pictures entered by underwater photographers from 68 countries around the world. She is the first female photographer to be named overall winner of the prestigious international photography contest.

To shoot “Sharks’ Skylight” Capozzola travelled from her home in California, out across the Pacific Ocean, to the tiny island of Moorea in August 2020. “French Polynesia strongly protects its sharks, it is my favourite place to photograph them,” she explains. “I dedicated several evenings to photographing in the shallows at sunset, and I was finally rewarded with this scene: glass-calm water, a rich sunset, sharks and even birds.

© Renee Capozzola/UPY2021

Chair of the competition judges, Dr Alexander Mustard MBE, commented “this is a photograph of hope, a glimpse of how the ocean can be when we give it a chance, thriving with spectacular life both below and above the surface. The photographer not only persevered until this serendipitous scene unfolded, but more importantly Renee had the talent to capture this precise moment. The gorgeous lighting is sympathetic, but the picture is made by the elegance of the composition as sharks, sunset and seabirds fleetingly converge. Judging this year’s competition was a pleasure, a much-needed escape into the underwater world, I hope everyone enjoys immersing themselves in these fabulous images.”

The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest is based in the UK, and Mark Kirkland, from Glasgow (Scotland) was named as British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021 for his inner-city wildlife vision “While You Are Sleeping” taken close to his home, in early March 2020. “This small muddy pond is an unlikely haven for wildlife, squeezed between a housing estate, supermarket and factory. But for a few nights each year, while the city sleeps, it comes alive with frogs. This frame was the culmination of 25 hours over 4 winter nights of lying stationary in darkness. Was it time well spent? Absolutely!

© Mark Kirkland/UPY2021

Competition judge, Mustard commented “this remarkable image shows that even in the centre of the city of Glasgow, frogs and world class underwater photography can thrive.” Fellow judge Peter Rowlands added “I think it is a masterpiece. Savour it.

In the same contest, Karim Iliya from the United States was named Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2021 for his graphic photo “Crowded Island” representing over-population and the pressure is exerts on the sea, with an aerial view of a small island in Panama. This category is open to both underwater and above water photographs highlighting conservation issues in the ocean, this is the first time an above water picture has triumphed.

© Karim Iliya/UPY2021

This densely inhabited village is a visual microcosm, a reminder of how humans across the planet are over-consuming space,” explained Iliya. “Our relationship with nature and the importance of protecting it becomes very apparent when you look at our species from above and see how we monopolize space, forcing nature out.”

Competition judge Rowlands commented “a stark visual reminder of how we humans overrun the land, then overfish the surrounding sea. This photo captures the unnatural and unsustainable imbalance perfectly.” Mustard added “all the problems facing the ocean come down to this – too many people.

The Underwater Photographer of the Year competition also aims to promote new photographic talent. SJ Alice Bennett, from the UK, but living in Mexico, was named as Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021 for a stylish photo of divers exploring a cave. Her image “Tying In” has a contemporary feel and relies on both advanced scuba diving and photographic techniques. “This photo was shot was taken during cave training,” explained Bennett “the two divers are followed closely by lighting assistants creating the beautiful halo effects that pick them out from the darkness.

© SJ Alice Bennett/UPY2021

Judge Mustard explains the photo’s appeal “we always reward photographic innovation in this category and the control of light in a totally dark cave combined with the shallow depth of field empower this image with a fresh vision and truly capture the spirit of exploring underwater and underground.

Gallery of Category Winners

For all the images places in Underwater Photographer of the Year view the gallery or download the free yearbook by clicking here.

  • © Renee Capozzola/UPY2021

  • © Mark Kirkland/UPY2021

  • © Karim Iliya/UPY2021

  • © Alice Bennett/UPY2021

  • Marine Conservation: © Karim Iliya/UPY2021

  • British Waters Compact: © Ian Wade/UPY2021

  • British Waters Living Together: © Kirsty Andrews/UPY2021

  • British Waters Macro: © Mark Kirkland/UPY2021

  • British Waters Wide Angle: © Mark Kirkland

  • Up and coming: © SJ Alice Bennett/UPY2021

  • Compact: © Jack Berthomier/UPY2021

  • Black and White: © Diana Fernie/UPY2021

  • Portrait: © Ryohe IIto/UPY2021

  • Behaviour: © Karim Iliya/UPY2021

  • Wreck: © Tobias Friedrich/UPY2021

  • Wide Angle: © Renee Capozzola/UPY2021

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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