Celebrate World Ocean’s Day with these gorgeous photos of the sea

Darlin' its better down where it's wetter.

Briny… thunderous… vast. Standing on the edge of an ocean, feet curled into the damp sand, one can’t help but feel small—whether the ocean in question is the Pacific along Oregon’s coast, where only the foolhardy dares a dip in the chilly waters sans wetsuit, or the waves of the Florida Keys, where the Atlantic turns clear and warm as it mingles with the Gulf of Mexico. On a human scale, the world’s oceans feel wild and interminable: a resource that we can use but never control, and certainly never harm. They seem too vast, too varied, too…too to ever succumb to the harm that 7.3 billion humans (and counting) could mete out. Right?

In this, there are lessons perhaps to be drawn from a Vervet monkey in Kenya, who in June of 2016 climbed onto the roof of the Gitaru Power Station and either fell or jumped onto a transformer, setting off a chain reaction that would result in a nationwide black out. Even small actions, applied carelessly, can cause catastrophic harms. We humans fumbling about the world’s oceans draw strong parallels to our Vervet cousin.

Although the world’s oceans cover 70 percent of the planet, humans have caused irreparable changes to their ecosystems through overfishing—estimates suggest that the world could essentially run out of fish by 2048. We’ve inundated the ocean with pollution from plastic, which can be found not only in the immediate vicinity of our population centers, but also in the farthest reaches of the Arctic where humans are scarce. Chemical pollutants—such as the remains of industrial processes—are so abundant that they are now found in the ocean’s deepest depths. And underpinning all of this is climate change, which is warming the oceans and threatening coral reefs. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest, experienced two years of back-to-back bleaching of over 50 percent of its corals, leaving many to worry over the reef’s continued existence. Increasing carbon dioxide emissions have also made the ocean more acidic, threatening the life of many aquatic animals.

But we need the ocean. These waters, courtesy of an unusual bacteria named Prochlorococcus, provide the majority of the world’s oxygen. At the same time, 3.5 billion people depend on the oceans for their primary source of food.

In 2009, the United Nations declared June 8 World Oceans Day in recognition of the importance of the sea to human society—and the very real harm that we are currently inflicting on this precious resource. It is a day of celebration, and also of caution; a time to marvel at the ocean’s bounty and to recognize the role that we play in either destroying or maintaining it.

In that vein, we’ve assembled a gallery of some of the most stunning—and startling—images of the ocean. Some of these will make you gasp at the beauty of the diversity of life on our planet. Others will make you gasp in horror at what we’ve lost. Hopefully, all will make you think about the ocean and our relationship to it.

multibar goatfish
Corals NOAA

Corals are home to millions of species. Humbug dascyllus (Dascyllus aruanus) and multibar goatfish (Parupeneus multifasciatus) are commonly seen in the shallow reefs and lagoons of American Samoa.

Okinawa, Japan The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Stephanie Roach.

Coral bleaching in Okinawa, Japan, captured in September 2016 during the third ever global bleaching event. Global coral bleaching is caused by climate change and was unheard of before the end of the 20th century.

whitespotted surgeonfish
Whitespotted surgeonfish NOAA

A school of whitespotted surgeonfish (Acanthurus guttatus) pause their grazing for a moment before moving on to another suitable patch of reef in American Samoa.

Bubble coral
Bubble coral Mohammed Al Momany, Aqaba, Jordan (NOAA)

Bubble coral (Plerogyra sinuosa) in the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea.

coral bleaching
Coral bleaching The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Stephanie Roach

Coral bleaching in Okinawa, Japan, captured in September 2016. When water grows too warm, the symbiotic algae that keep corals alive vacates the premises. This isn’t normal.

crown-of-thorns starfish
Crown-of-thorns NOAA

A close-up of a crown-of-thorns starfish at Gardner Pinnacles in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

United States, Kingman Reef.
Kingman Reef LCDR Eric Johnson, NOAA Corps

The Kingman Reef, which lies 925 miles south by west of Honolulu.

Maldives The Ocean Agency / XL Catlin Seaview Survey / Richard Vevers

Coral bleaching in the Maldives captured in May 2016—part of the third ever global bleaching event. It’s unlikely the world’s coral will ever recover.

Giant moray
Moray Julie Bedford, NOAA PA

A giant moray (Gymnothorax javanicus) hangs out in Fiji.

Blue sea star
Baby blue Julie Bedford, NOAA PA

A Blue sea star (Linckia laevigata) in Fiji, photographed in 2008.

Red soft coral
Red soft coral Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR

Red soft coral on the Philippine Islands, Occidental Mindoro, Apo Reef.

Juvenile emperor angelfish
Angelfish Mohammed Al Momany, Aqaba, Jordan (NOAA)

Juvenile emperor angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) in the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea.

slate pencil urchin
Pencil urchin [NOAA]9https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/gallery/image.php?siteName=nosimages&cat=Pencil%20Urchin)

A close-up shot of a slate pencil urchin (Heterocentrotus mamillatus) at Kingman Reef in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Lobe coral, Pohaku puna
Just keep swimming James Watt/NOAA

Here Bluestripe snapper, Ta’ape, Threespot damselfish, and Oval Chromis damselfish are seen swimming around Lobe coral, Pohaku puna, and Table coral at French Frigate Shoals in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Green sea turtle

A green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas).

fishing net
Fishing nets NOAA

Thousands of miles away from the closest human settlement, fishing nets hundreds of feet long linger in the Pacific Ocean, set free from their owners to continue serving their purpose: ensnaring fish. Fish and turtles get caught in the nets and die.

sea anemone
With friends like these… NOAA

A sea anemone surrounded by Pocillopora, Porites, and giant clams at Kingman Reef in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Midnight snapper
Snapper Kevin Lino/NOAA/NMFS/PIFSC/ESD

A midnight snapper (Macolor macularis) in American Samoa.

Longnose filefish
Why the long nose? Kevin Lino/NOAA/NMFS/PIFSC/ESD

A longnose filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris) in American Samoa.

Delicate soft pink deep sea octocorals
Octocorals Aquapix and Expedition to the Deep Slope 2007, NOAA-OE

Delicate soft pink deep sea octocorals at 1500 meters deep in Gulf of Mexico.

magnificent siphonophore
Siphonophore Hidden Ocean Expedition 2005/NOAA/OAR/OER

A magnificent siphonophore in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea.

A moon jellyfish.
When the moon hits your eye Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

A moon jellyfish.

stalked octocoral
Octocoral NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2012

A stalked octocoral found in the Gulf of Mexico.

dumbo octopus
Octopus NOAA OKEANOS EXPLORER Program, Oceano Profundo 2015

This rare dumbo octopus (Cirrothauma murrayi) is often called the Blind Octopod due to the lack of a lens and retina in its eyes. Its eyes can only detect light and cannot form images.

Copepod Matt Wilson/Jay Clark, NOAA NMFS AFSC

Copepod with eggs seen under the microscope.

Whale shark
Whale shark Sam Farkas/ NOAA OAR 2014 Photo Contest

A whale shark encounter off the Caribbean coast of Panama. This fish was about 16-18 feet in length, but whale sharks can grow to 40 feet—and are the world’s largest fish.

Octopus or squid larva
Baby cephalopod Matt Wilson/Jay Clark, NOAA NMFS AFSC

Octopus or squid larva seen under the microscope.

Abyssal jellyfish
Jellies! NOAA

An abyssal jellyfish.

Jellyfish on Fumitsuki Maru
More jellies! David Burdick / NOAA

A jellyfish on Fumitsuki Maru.

Large shark
Dun dun, dun dun David Burdick / NOAA

A large shark (Carcharinus sp.) with remora swimming below.

Two weaned seal pups sleeping on the beach

Two weaned seal pups sleeping on the beach.

Bubble coral
Celebrate with some bubbly David Burdick / NOAA

Bubble coral (Plerogyra sinuosa) on Sankisan Maru.

NASA Colors
Rain, rain NASA/Goddard/SuomiNPP/VIIRS via NASA’s OceanColor

Damaging heavy rains fell on South Carolina in the southeastern United States at the beginning of October 2015. Much of that water had, by mid-October, flowed into the Atlantic Ocean, bringing with it heavy loads of sediment, nutrients, and dissolved organic material. The above image, from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument on NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite, shows the runoff as it interacts with ocean currents on October 15.

An Antarctic tern taking flight.
Take a tern Elaine Leung / NOAA NMFS SWFSC Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) Program

An Antarctic tern taking flight.

Adult gentoo penguin feeds its chick
Penguin Amy Van Cise / NOAA NMFS SWFSC Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) Program

An adult gentoo penguin feeds its chick regurgitated krill.

A resting Weddell seal.
Seal Amy Van Cise / NOAA NMFS SWFSC Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) Program

A resting Weddell seal.

An iceberg in Antarctica's South Shetland Islands
Iceberg Ethan Daniels / NOAA NMFS SWFSC Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) Program

An iceberg in Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands being swept by huge Southern Ocean swells.

Antarctic shag
An Antarctic shag Ray Buchheit / NOAA NMFS SWFSC Antarctic Marine Living Resources (AMLR) Program

A close-up of this Antarctic shag highlights characteristic blue and yellow/orange growth above its beak, which is brightest during the breeding season—presumably to attract mates.

Seagulls landing on mouth of humpback whale
Hey! Dr. Elliott Hazen NMFS/SWFSC/ERD

Seagulls landing on mouth of humpback whale in Massachusetts, Stellwagen Bank.

Aurora australis
Nature’s own light show Ross Burgener, ET, NOAA/OAR/ESRL/GMD

Aurora australis dances over an LED-illuminated igloo, giving the snow an ethereal blue hue.