Cenote Zacil-Ha in Tulum, Mexico
"Ancient Caves" by Tom St. George / 1st Place Black & White, 2021 Ocean Art Contest

Dive Into the Best Underwater Photography of 2021

About 71% of Earth is under water, yet that vast submerged realm remains aqua incognita for most of us, even if we take the occasional snorkeling excursion during vacation. Maybe that's why underwater photography often looks like it could have been snapped on an alien planet.

For the 10th year, the Underwater Photography Guide's Ocean Art Contest has handed out awards for the previous year's best visual dispatches from the deep, and once again (here are last year's winners), the images have the eerie beauty of sci-fi illustrations of mysterious settings and strange life-forms.  

Judges for the 2021 contest evaluated thousands of entries from 81 countries, eventually doling out more than $35,000 in prizes in 14 categories highlighting photographic techniques, marine life portraiture, ocean conservation efforts, and—new for this year—black-and-white images. The first-place winner in that category, Tom St. George's shot of a cenote in Tulum, Mexico, can be seen above.

Scroll on to see five more 2021 Ocean Art Contest winners that make us want to strap on fins. Each underwater photo, including the competition's "Best of Show," is accompanied by comments from the photgrapher, courtesy of Underwater Photography Guide. 

Pictured above: "Ancient Caves" by Tom St. George / 1st Place Black & White, 2021 Ocean Art Contest

Fighting pike near Antwerp, Belgium
"Snoeken" by Luc Rooman / Best of Show, 2021 Ocean Art Contest
Fighting Pike, Antwerp, Belgium

This year's Best of Show features a rare win by freshwater fish. According to photographer Luc Rooman, "This photograph was captured during a night dive in October at the dive site Domein Muisbroek near Antwerp, Belgium. To my surprise, I came across these fighting pike." 

Green sea turtle hatchling near Heron Island, Australia
"Against All Odds" by Hannah Le Leu / 3rd Place Wide Angle, 2021 Ocean Art Contest
Green Sea Turtle Hatchling, Heron Island, Australia

"A green sea turtle hatchling cautiously surfaces for air to a sky full of hungry birds," writes Hannah Le Lou of her shot, the third-place winner in the Wide Angle category. "Against all odds, this hatchling must battle through the conditions of a raging storm whilst evading a myriad of predators" off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia.  

Coral in the Solomon Islands
"Coral Tip Forest" by Nicole Helgason / 3rd Place Compact Macro, 2021 Ocean Art Contest
Coral, Solomon Islands

To get this mesmerizing top-down shot of thriving coral—third-place winner in the "Compact Macro" category—creator Nicole Helgason traveled to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific "on a mission to photograph healthy coral colonies." This vibrant patch of Acropora tenuis coral can be found in shallow water around a speck of land called Sand Island. Writes Helgason: "This image has always been one of my all-time favorite photographs from the trip as the little tentacles on the side of the Acropora branches invite you to look deeper into the coral."

Fairy basslet in Jardines de la Reina, Cuba
"Magical Fairy Wisps" by Jenny Stock / 1st Place Underwater Art, 2021 Ocean Art Contest
Fairy Basslet, Jardines de la Reina, Cuba

The vivid colors of fairy basslet (aka royal gramma) fish inspired Jenny Stock during a diving trip in Cuba. "Through the use of masks and filters in post-processing," Stock explains of her first-place winner in the Underwater Art category, "I crafted the basslet bodies to disperse into wisps of colorful smoky clouds against a jet-black background."

Anthias fish near Italy's Argentarola Island
"Joker" by Paolo Bausani / 1st Place Portrait, 2021 Ocean Art Contest
Anthias Fish, Argentarola Island, Italy

The winner in the Portrait category captures, as photographer Paolo Bausani puts it, "the bright and vivid color of male anthias, typical of the courtship period," when the fish performs a frisky dance to attract a mate. This Italian lover was spotted off Argentarola Island in Tuscany

To see all the winning images in the 2021 Ocean Art Contest and find tips and tutorials for snapping your own underwater pics, visit UWPhotographyGuide.com.