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Earth Day

Each year, the Underwater Photographer of the Year awards are presented to artists from around the world.

Using a variety of cameras and lenses, underwater photographers capture marine marvels landlubbers are rarely exposed to.

Here are 23 of the year's best photographs, including one from the photographer of year, Davide Lopresti of Italy, who captured "Gold," the single best underwater image of the year.


1. The sea is filled with beautiful surprises. Like this jellyfish.

A large jellyfish on the eastern coast of South Africa. Photo by UPY/Pier Mane.

2. Some are big. Like this octopus.

According to the photographer, shortly after this picture was taken, the octopus attempted to grab the camera. Photo by UPY/Fabio Russo.

3. No, like really big. Like this shipwreck.

A diver explores the wreck of the USS Kittiwake in the Cayman Islands. Photo by UPY/Christian Vizl.

4. While others are small but fabulous. Like this tompot blenny.

A delightful portrait of a tompot blenny. Photo by UPY/Trevor Rees.

5. Underwater, there lives a world most of us can only begin to imagine.

A coral reef in the Raja Ampat archipelago. Photo by UPY/Damien Mauric.

6. It's a world filled with exotic creatures.

A standout image from Palau's Jellyfish Lake. Photo by UPY/Behnaz Afsahi.

7. And regular joes living their best lives — like this shark.

Photo by UPY/Pier Mane.

8. There are sunken ships...

Another photo of the USS Kittiwake wreck. Photo by UPY/Susannah H. Snowden-Smith.

9. ...and trucks that are the very definition of spooky.

The sinking of the SS Thistlegorm occurred in 1941. It's now a popular wreck for scuba divers to explore. Photo by UPY/Anders Nyberg.

10. Seriously. Google "spooky" and this is the kind of stuff you'll see.

OK, this one's probably ghost-free because this ship was sunk on purpose. True story. Photo by UPY/Rui Guerra.

11. But you'll also find the occasional boldly-colored masked butterflyfish.

See what I mean about surprises?

Photo by UPY/Spencer Burrows.

12. And for every fish with a staring problem, there are millions of species at home in the water.

A beautiful lagoon on the French Polynesian island of Mo'orea. Photo by UPY/Greg Lecoeur.

13. Some are friendly and familiar like this seal.

Photo by UPY/Sara Bowring.

14. While others patiently wait for their 15 minutes of fame. Like this starry weever.

Photo by UPY/Marc Casanovas Felix.

15. There are a few, like this brown bear, who hang out near the water mostly for the free seafood...

The photographer constructed his own cage to capture this photo of a brown bear hunting in Russia. Photo by UPY/Mikhail Korostelev.

16. ...or for the prime diving conditions, like this petrel.

An 'ua'u (Hawaiian petrel) feeding on small crustaceans. Photo by UPY/Alejandro Prieto.

17. Whether they were born in the sea like this catshark...

The silhouette of a catshark inside its egg case. Photo by UPY/Dan Bolt.

18. ...or raised there like this goby fish...

This is a photograph of a goby fish on what's known as a sea pen, an invertebrate marine creature. Photo by UPY/Ross Gudgeon.

19. ...relax there like these pilot whales...

A pod of pilot whales in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo by UPY/Greg Lecoeur.

20. ...dine there like these seagulls...

A flock of seagulls hover near Playa del Carmen in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Photo by UPY/Alejandro Prieto.

21. ...or just like to visit like these swimmers...

This photo was captured during the start of a swimming contest around the Italian island of Bergeggi. Photo by UPY/Davide Lopresti.

22. ...every species, can agree: Earth's rivers, lakes, and oceans are special and necessary and deserve our protection.

This is a shanny. And yes, it does look like it belongs in a Pixar movie. Photo by UPY/Mark Thomas.

23. Not just for our sake, but for the unexpected beauty and wonder found in the world below the ocean's surface.

This photograph, "Gold," of a spiny seahorse earned Davide Lopresti the coveted Underwater Photographer of the Year award. Seahorses like this were driven from areas of the Mediterranean due to destructive fishing practices like trawling. However, recent protections have allowed these majestic creatures to return home and Lopresti was excited to capture them in their natural habitat.

He used a long exposure to create textures akin to an oil painting, and then he used his flash to bring out details of the seahorse. Dr. Alex Mustard, marine biologist and chair of the judging panel, described "Gold" as “beautiful and creative, a very worthy overall winner."

Photo by UPY/Davide Lopresti.

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