From shoals of squid to troubling evidence of plastic pollution, these winning images from our ocean photography competition with Parley capture the “beauty and fragility” of the sea
Earlier this year, we launched a photography competition in partnership with environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans to celebrate World Oceans Day. The brief was simple: to submit photos that captured the “beauty and fragility” of the sea, and anyone from anywhere in the world could enter, using any camera equipment they had to hand. After Parley slimmed down the shortlist to 25 photos from oceans around the world – entrants’ work ranged from shoals of squid, a whale and her calf, and evidence of the plastic that is polluting our planet – photographer Harley Weir picked a winner: Helen Walne.
A South African underwater photographer who heads out into the cold sea off Cape Town almost every day in search of life in the region’s kelp forests, Walne’s intimate photograph of a small fish intertwined with a jellyfish won her the competition and is a tender reminder of the hidden beauty and playfulness of life in our oceans and the millions of species that exist within them.
“I came across this odd couple while freediving in the shallows on a churned-up day off the Cape Town coast near Simons Town,” says Walne of her winning photograph. “At first I thought the fish – likely a man-of-war fish (Nomeus gronovii) – was either being eaten by the jelly (a night-light jelly, also known as Pelagica noctiluca), or had already shuffled off this mortal coil and was being dragged along in a somewhat macabre funeral procession. As I swam next to them, I realised the fish was probably hitchhiking a ride with the jelly while also snacking on its gelatinous body – kind of like taking an Uber and nibbling on the upholstery.”
However hauntingly beautiful the finalists’ images are, many address the problems of marine pollution in the ocean; there’s a plastic bag drifting to the seabed backdropped by a huge sunken ship, a young boy surfacing for breath surrounded by plastic bottles, and a sea urchin nestled inside a Coke can. Walne’s image of a fish and a jellyfish interacting, however, is a portrait of a marine ecosystem in joyful harmony. To celebrate her win, in 2023 Walne will be sent on a journey into the wild with a Parley crew to document the eye-opening, day-to-day work of their team.
“To end the destruction of our planet, it helps to see it first,” says Parley for the Oceans founder Cyrill Gutsch. “There’s a disconnect we’re trying to bridge at Parley by showing the beauty alongside the fragility. Every entry in this contest was a win because each brought a reminder that we’re part of something bigger. Most of our world is a mystery, there’s so much we can still protect, and so many talented individuals out there who are ready to dive in and be part of the change.”