Winning Photos Highlight Life and Beauty at Marine Sanctuaries

'No matter where we call home, water is a unifying force.'

yellowfin fringehead
Yellowfin fringehead in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Jon Anderson

From photos of gorgeous sunsets to portraits of wildlife above and below the surface, photographers captured an array of stunning images in the 2020 Get Into Your Sanctuary Photo Contest. Held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the contest features images from the agency's sanctuaries.

Professional and amateur photographers submitted their works in four categories: "Sanctuary Life," "Sanctuary Views," "Sanctuary Recreation," and a new category to fit life amid a pandemic, "Sanctuaries at Home." The photographers must adhere to all responsible wildlife viewing guidelines.

"The winning photos inspire a sense of hope and wonder that America's national marine sanctuaries are special places for all of us to enjoy," Kate Thompson, education and outreach division chief for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, tells Treehugger. "The stories behind many of the photo submissions remind us that no matter where we call home, water is a unifying force."

The photo above by Jon Anderson won 1st place in the Sanctuary Life category. Shot at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, it features a yellowfin fringehead (Neoclinus stephensae) peeking out from behind a red-rust bryozoan (Watersipora subtorquata).

Anderson said, "The density, diversity, and vibrancy of life throughout the reefs in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is what keeps me diving in these cold and challenging waters.”

Here's a look at the rest of the winners:

2nd Place, Sanctuary Life

Risso's dolphins
Risso's dolphins.

Douglas Croft

Douglas Croft photographed Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus) in a hurry in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

“Usually quite businesslike and methodical, this group of Risso’s dolphins was very playful and energetic while we were on our post-quarantine shakedown cruise in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary," Croft said. "It seemed like they had missed us. We had certainly missed them!”

3rd Place, Sanctuary Life

French angelfish
French angelfish.

Stan Schone

A French angelfish (Pomacanthus paru) snacks on a sponge in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Galveston, Texas.

1st Place, Sanctuary Recreation

Catching a Wave
Catching a Wave.

Bruce Sudweeks

This winning entry shows a young girl catching a wave in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

“My granddaughter is being taught to enjoy and respect the ocean," says photographer Bruce Sudweeks.

2nd place, Sanctuary Recreation

Artist at Lighthouse State Beach
Artist at Lighthouse State Beach.

Christina Ford

An artist takes in the views of Lighthouse State Beach in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary while oil painting.

3rd place, Sanctuary Recreation

curious sand tiger shark
A curious sand tiger shark.

Bruce Sudweeks

A curious sand tiger shark (Carcharias taurus) investigates a diver in Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

“A marine sanctuary is one of the few places you can safely interact with apex predators," says photographer Bruce Sudweeks.

1st place, Sanctuary Views

Sunbeams penetrate kelp forest
Sunbeams penetrate kelp forest.

Jon Anderson

Sunbeams penetrate the canopy of a kelp forest in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary as blue rockfish (Sebastes mystinus) congregate beneath.

“Visibility varies a lot in Monterey, both above and below the water, but days like this where the sun is out and water is clear are about as breathtaking as anywhere on Earth that I have experienced," says photographer Jon Anderson.

2nd place, Sanctuary Views

Sun sets at at Limekiln State Park
Sun sets at at Limekiln State Park.

Steve Zmak

"The sun sets on another beautiful day at Limekiln State Park in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary," says photographer Steve Zmak.

3rd place, Sanctuary Views

Channel Islands
Channel Islands.

Dustin Harris

At high tide in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, kayaking conditions at the sea arch are pristine.

"Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary can change wildly from one day to the next," says photographer Dustin Harris. "This photo embodies a sense of peace and calm alongside a sea arch that takes immense force to create."

1st place, Sanctuaries at Home

Sea turtles and tropical fish
Sea turtles and tropical fish.

Jill Brown

"Sea turtles and tropical fish inspired by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary make a big splash as delightful works of sidewalk art," says photographer Jill Brown.

2nd place, Sanctuaries at Home

Spotted eagle rays painting
Spotted eagle rays painting.

Tiffany Duong

Bringing Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary indoors during the pandemic with paintings of spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari).

“When the pandemic forced us out of the water, we still discovered the wonder of our undersea world with paint nights featuring some of our favorite reef creatures from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary," says photographer Tiffany Duong. "Here, funds from our paintings even supported critical reef restoration efforts.”

3rd place, Sanctuaries at Home

Adventure seekers at Salt Creek Recreation Area
Adventure seekers at Salt Creek Recreation Area.

Kristine Ellefson

Description: Adventure seekers recreate responsibly at Salt Creek Recreation Area in Port Angeles, Washington, located roughly 50 miles from Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.