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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.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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