Sea the beauty of the world’s oceans with these 12 award-worthy photos

Manatee in a patch of sunlight

A manatee enjoys the crystal-clear waters of the Homosassa River. Shot in Florida. Sylvie Ayer/Ocean Photographer of the Year

The oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, but humans have only visited and mapped 5 percent of them. They remain one of the greatest, deepest mysteries close to home. With the help of scientists and photographers, however, we’re uncovering more wildlife and more about the flows and balances in oceans day by day. While we might never know everything that unfolds beneath the great blue waves, we can always keep our curiosities and appetites alive.

The Ocean Photographer of the Year Awards, led by Oceanographic magazine and its partners, is the perfect way to dive further into marine landscapes without planning an expensive trip across the world. The 2023 winners will all be displayed at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney starting November 17—but until then, you can explore the skillful submissions in categories like wildlife, human connection, conservation impact, and conservation hope online. The no. 1 selection in this year’s contest depicts a wondrous paper nautilus swimming through a minefield of volcanic ejecta in the western Pacific Ocean. The image (see below) was taken by up-and-coming marine biologist and amateur photographer Jialing Cai.

Keep scrolling for a sampling of our favorites, and enjoy the rest on Oceanographic‘s website.

Paper nautilus in turbid water
The overall winner of the 2023 awards: A paper nautilus drifts on a piece of ocean debris at night, surrounded by heavy sediment. Shot in the Philippines. Jialing Cai/Ocean Photographer of the Year
Sea turtle hatchling on beach next to adult sea turtle
An endangered green sea turtle hatchling follows the path of an adult turtle who just laid her eggs. Shot on Wilson Island, Australia. Ross Long/Ocean Photographer of the Year
Polar bear walks across Arctic glacier with sunset in background
A polar bear walks across a glacier that is adorned by a waterfall. Michael Haluwana/Ocean Photographer of the Year
Lizardfish with prey in mouth
A lizardfish’s open mouth reveals its last meal. Shot in the Philippines. Jack Pokoj/Ocean Photographer of the Year
Gentoo penguin shooting above water
A gentoo penguin, the fastest penguin species in the world, charges across the water. Shot in Antarctica. Craig Parry/Ocean Photographer of the Year
Whale shark swimming toward a light
A whale shark swims toward the light on a boat. Shot in the Maldives. Merche Llobera/Ocean Photographer of the Year
Caribbean reef octopus with eggs closeup
A Caribbean reef octopus mother hunkers down with her eggs. Shot in West Palm Beach, Florida. Kat Zhou/Ocean Photographer of the Year
Scuba diver exploring sunken plane
The Lockheed Martin L1011 Tristar, an intentionally sunk plane wreck in the Red Sea, dwarfs a scuba diver. Shot in Jordan. Martin Broen/Ocean Photographer of the Year
Prowfish and lion's mane jellyfish in water
A rarely photographed juvenile prowfish hides behind a curtain of a lion’s mane jellyfish’s stinging tentacles. Shot in the North Pacific Ocean. Shane Gross/Ocean Photographer of the Year
Whitemouth moray eel looking at camera
A whitemouth moray eel’s intricate body fills the image’s entire background. Shot on Reunion Island. Cedric Peneau/Ocean Photographer of the Year
Sperm whale calf and mother swimming
A sperm whale calf sticks close to its mother. Shot in Dominica. Kat Zhou/Ocean Photographer of the Year