Nature and Biodiversity

In pictures: These are the top underwater photographs of the year

Whale bones and a diver under ice.

Dive into the results of the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024. Image: Alex Dawson/UPY2024

Meg Jones
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Climate and Nature

  • The winners of the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 have been announced.
  • With 13 different categories highlighting the wonders beneath the water’s surface, here’s a selection of the top photos of 2024.
  • The ocean faces multiple stressors from the impacts of our changing climate, and the World Economic Forum's Ocean Action Agenda is fast-tracking solutions.

Dive into the results of the Underwater Photographer of the Year (UPY) 2024, with 13 different categories celebrating moments that happen beneath the surface of our Earth’s water.

While a stunning display of nature, each image brings with it a reminder of our changing climate. From rising temperatures to declining populations, our ocean bears the brunt of global warming, while simultaneously being a vital buffer – absorbing 25% of all carbon dioxide emissions and capturing 90% of the excess heat generated by these emissions.

Here’s a selection from the top underwater photographs of the year.

Whale Bones

Out of 6,500 entries from around the world, Sweden’s Alex Dawson was named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024.

His image, titled "Whale Bones", shows a haunting scene of a free diver coming across a whale carcass beneath the Greenland ice sheet. “The masterful composition invites [us] to consider our impact on the great creatures of this planet,” said one of the judges.

Whale bones and a diver under ice.
Image: Alex Dawson/UPY2024

Early warning signs suggest that several planetary systems, including the Greenland ice sheet, are losing resilience at pace, finds the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024.

It states that current global warming trajectories indicate that at least one climate tipping point – the threshold at which “long-term, potentially irreversible and self-perpetuating change to a planetary system occurs” – could be passed within the next 10 years.

Star Attraction

Sea urchins and brittlestars.
Image: Jenny Stock/UPY2024

Jenny Stock was named British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 for her image, “Star Attraction”. Diving in a Scottish loch, her torch picked out the purple sea urchin nestled among colourful brittlestars and she was able to capture the “beautifully balanced pair”.

The End Of The Baitball

A baleen whale captured by a baitball.
Image: Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY2024

Spanish photographer Rafael Fernandez Caballero won the ‘Behaviour’ category with his image, “The End Of The Baitball”.

A baitball is what a school of fish does when under threat, and here a baleen whale is captured mid-baitball, “engulfing hundreds of kilograms of sardines in one bite”. Fernandez Caballero also noticed that, “due to the warmer water caused by the climate phenomenon ‘El Niño’, more species than ever joined this hunt”.

The ocean – and the beings that live within it – face multiple stressors from the impacts of our changing climate. The World Economic Forum's Ocean Action Agenda focuses on fast-tracking solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

Grey Whale Connection

The eye of a grey whale.
Image: Rafael Fernandez Caballero/UPY2024

Fernandez Caballero also scooped the ‘Portrait’ category with this arresting image, titled “Grey Whale Connection”.

Known for actively seeking interaction with whale watchers, the grey whale migrates from its feeding grounds in the Arctic to breed and calve in Baja California, Mexico – which is where this close-up shot of the whale’s eye was taken as the photographer peered over the side of his boat.

Window of Opportunity

Mahi mahi fish and sardines.
Image: Lisa Stengel/UPY2024

Lisa Stengel, from the US, was named Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024, with her photo “Window of Opportunity”.

Taken in Magdalena Bay, Mexico, Stengel was greeted with an unusual amount of mahi mahi fish for the time of year due to rising ocean temperatures – a stark example of how quickly marine species are having to respond to climate change.

Saving Goliath

A group of people pictured with a stranded sperm whale.
Image: Nuno Sá/UPY2024

Open to both underwater and ‘above water’ photos, the 'Save Our Seas Foundation' Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year category must highlight a marine conservation story.

Portuguese photographer Nuno Sá’s image, “Saving Goliath”, won him the title. Taken at Costa da Caparica, near Lisbon, the image shows beachgoers trying to save a stranded sperm whale.

It serves as a powerful reminder of how human beings are impacting whale species: “in their lifespan they have gone from an ocean of safety and silence to an ocean of chaos, of noise and ocean pollution,” says Nuno Sá.

You can browse all the entries from the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 here.

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