25 Outstanding Shots From The 2023 Mangrove Photography Awards

Published 7 months ago

The 9th Mangrove Photography Awards, organized by the Mangrove Action Project (MAP), recently concluded with a spectacular showcase of breathtaking images that emphasize the beauty and importance of mangrove ecosystems worldwide. With over 2,000 entries from 72 nations, this year’s competition has been an extraordinary celebration of the rich biodiversity, cultural significance, and the conservation challenges faced by mangrove forests.

After weeks of deliberation, the winners were announced, and we are thrilled to present some outstanding shots from the 2023 Mangrove Photography Awards.

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#1 Mangroves & Underwater Winner: A Lemon’s Life By Anita Kainrath, Bahamas

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

A juvenile lemon shark swims in shallow mangrove forests in the Bahamas. Lemon sharks are probably the most understood sharks in the world, thanks to over 30 years of studies by Bimini Shark Lab.

“Lemon sharks spend their first 4-6 years in shallow waters where mangrove forests protect them from bigger predators. They build friendships with other juvenile sharks and learn how to hunt. They are absolutely gorgeous, smart, curious and clumsy. Mangroves build a perfect ecosystem and are their nursery and for so many other species.”

The sharks also use natal philopatry, meaning when mature (12 – 14 years old) females are ready to pup, they return to the same mangrove nursery that they were born in and drop their own pups there.

#2 Overall Winner: The Finest “Flower” Of The Mangroves By Soham Bhattacharyya, India

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

Soham Bhattacharyya / Mangrove Photography Awards

‘The Finest “Flower” of the Mangroves’ captures a heart-warming image of a young Royal Bengal tigress through the mangrove bushes of a fragile natural wonder.

“The solitary figure of the tiger, standing amidst the lush green mangrove forest vegetation, poignantly underscores the isolation it must endure in an ever-shrinking habitat”, said judge Daisy Gilardini.

There are perhaps only 200 of these magnificent animals in the Sundarbans mangrove forest. According to the last survey conducted in 2018, there were 114 tigers in the Bangladesh portion of the Sundarbans. West Bengal Forest Department recent tiger estimation exercise for 2020-21, puts the number of big cats in the region at 96. These iconic and endangered Bengals are the only tigers adapted to live in a mangrove habitat.

Sadly, the largest mangrove forest in the world is also under threat, with nearly a staggering 25 percent lost (136.77 square km) due to erosion and human pressures over the past three decades.

#3 Mangroves & Threats Runner Up: Cleaning Up The Coastline By Gerdie Hutomo, Indonesia

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

A worker carries a crate full of garbage from the North Coastline of the city of Jakarta, Indonesia. “All of the garbage came from the river inside the city and flowed north to the coastline and piled up massively, disturbing the growth of the mangrove trees.”

Plastic debris, such as bottles, bags, and microplastics, can accumulate in mangrove forests. This physical contamination can smother and damage mangrove roots, which are essential for stabilizing the coastline and providing habitat for numerous species.

Plastics can obstruct the flow of water within and around mangrove habitats. This obstruction can disrupt natural hydrological processes that are vital for maintaining the health of mangroves and the organisms they support

Plastics can leach harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil and water as they break down. These chemicals can negatively impact mangrove ecosystems by affecting water quality, soil health, and the health of the organisms living in and around mangroves.

#4 Mangroves & Wildlife Runner Up: Mating Nurse Sharks By Mark Ian Cook, USA

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

Taken from a helicopter while conducting a scientific study of waterbirds, Mark captured the rarely observed mating behaviour of two large Nurse Sharks in the shallow waters off the mangrove-lined (and aptly named) Shark Point in the Everglades National Park, Florida.

“Sheltered mangrove habitats that are largely free of human disturbance are critical mating and nursery habitats for a number of shark species, and protecting these areas is essential to sustaining shark populations.”

The tangled prop roots and submerged vegetation offer a secure environment where adult sharks can engage in courtship without the disturbances and turbulence often found in open waters.

#5 Mangroves & Underwater Runner Up: Forest Meets Reef By Brooke Pyke, Indonesia

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

A lush and thriving mangrove forest grows atop a vibrant coral reef in Raja Ampat’s Gam island – a split shot depicting two ecosystems that are vital for the health of our oceans.

“Quietly swimming on the surface, trying not to disturb the water, I snapped this photograph using a strobe to light the corals at the bottom and ambient light for the trees above.”

Connectivity between mangroves and coral reefs is a critical ecological relationship that plays a significant role in the health and sustainability of these ecosystems. The Indo-Pacific region is known for its extensive mangrove forests, with Indonesia alone comprising one fifth of the global total. Mangroves often fringe coral reef coastline and the connectivity between mangroves and corals is of critical ecological importance. Mangroves provide many benefits to coral reefs including protection from sedimentation, filtering nutrients from land and rivers, and a nursery habitat for many species of juvenile fish.

#6 Mangroves & Threats, Highly Commended:

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

A mangrove forest swept away by tropical storms and hurricanes on the north coast of Yucatan.
“In 2003, this area was seriously impacted by Hurricane Isidoro, destroying all the vegetation in its path. What remains today are trees and shrubs of different types of mangrove around the swamp, but even so we can still see abundant wildlife such as birds, reptiles, fish and crustaceans.”

The Caribbean and Mexico are home to extensive mangrove ecosystems, with Mexico alone hosting approximately 4% of the world’s total mangrove cover. The region is susceptible to hurricanes due to its location in the Atlantic hurricane basin. Hurricane Isidore reached Category 3 status, with maximum sustained winds of around 125 miles per hour (201 km/h) at its peak intensity. Isidore made landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico on September 22, 2002. It was one of the most intense hurricanes to strike the region in several decades.

#7 Mangroves & Threats, Highly Commended: Wild & Free By Yordanis Méndez Segura, Cuba

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

In the Gulf of Ana María, this mangrove-dwelling American saltwater crocodile was spotted with its mouth tangled in nylon rope.

#8 Mangroves & Wildlife Winner: Hiding In Plain Sight By Chien Lee, Colombia

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

In the mangrove forest of Colombia’s Utría National Park, a Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus) is nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding branches while it perches motionless on its nest.

“As I didn’t want to risk disturbing the Potoo into flight, I photographed it with a long telephoto lens some distance away and partially obscured by the branches of intervening mangrove trees. It was only after looking through the lens that I realized there was actually a single egg.”

Utría National Park, located on Colombia’s Pacific coast in the Chocó region, is renowned for its stunning biodiversity. One of the highlights of the national park is the potoo, a fascinating and cryptic nocturnal bird. One striking feature of the potoo is its remarkable camouflage. During the day, it perches on tree branches, remaining perfectly still, with its cryptic plumage resembling a broken tree branch or stump. This camouflage helps it blend seamlessly with its surroundings, making it exceptionally challenging to spot.

#9 Mangroves & Wildlife, Highly Commended: To Theft Of Fish By Kaveesha Madhubhashana, Sri Lanka

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

Egrets stealing fish from nets in Mannar Island, Sri Lanka. “I took this shot near the mangrove lagoon. This egret caught the fish from the fish net and flew away. It’s very interesting animal behavior to look at.”

#10 Mangroves & People Runner Up: In The Forest By Phan Thi Khanh, Vietnam

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

A fisherman navigates the winter mangroves in Hue, Vietnam. Ru Cha Mangroves Forest is nestled in Tam Giang Lagoon in Thua Thien-Hue Province. In the local dialect, ru means forest while cha is the name of the trees growing densely in the forest.

“Ru Cha is a mangrove forest that is considered the green lung of Tam Giang lagoon. Each season, the scenery in Ru Cha has its own beauty. In winter, the mangrove trees shed its leaves, leaving thin white trunks. Seeing that scene is like a giant spider web.”

#11 Mangroves & Threats, Highly Commended: The Window View – A Coexistence By Sreekumar Krishnan, India

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

An apartment complex faces the Talawe Lake, an inter-tidal part of the mangrove system. The flamingos visit annually and find comfort from the high tide of the shore line. More of these lakes are being lost to developments.

“Apartment citizens are fighting tooth and nail to protect the lakes and mangroves from being encroached. This beauty needs to be protected and to show the world that humans can coexist if space is allowed.”

#12 Mangroves & Landscape, Highly Commended: Black Dawn By Mannepuri Srikanth, India

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

A drone image from Godavari mangrove forest in Andhra Pradesh, India shows mangroves in proximity to a large industrial site.

“Hundreds of hectares of mangroves are cleared to make room for these industries. But that is not the end of the problem. These industries typically release effluents into the nearby ponds on several occasions. Sometimes these effluents create an impervious physical and toxic oily layer.”

#13 Mangroves & Landscape, Highly Commended: Courtship By Shane Gross, The Bahamas

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

Nurse sharks gather in the peaceful Bahamian mangroves to mate. “I was sleeping in my tent on an adjacent beach when I heard splashing before sunrise. I grabbed my camera and ran out to see nurse sharks mating in knee-deep water.”

Mangrove forests serve as crucial nursery habitats for lemon sharks during their early life stages. Juvenile lemon sharks, as well as other marine species, find shelter and protection among the submerged prop roots and dense vegetation of mangroves. Mangrove ecosystems are highly productive and provide an abundant food supply for lemon shark pups. These habitats are rich in organic matter and support the growth of small prey species, such as fish and crustaceans.

#14 Mangroves & Underwater, Highly Commended: Nursery By Shane Gross, Bahamas

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

Lemon shark pups hide in the mangroves at high tide.

“Baby lemon sharks use the tangle of roots from mangroves to hide from larger sharks during high tide. At low tide, when the water is too shallow for large sharks, they will head out onto the flats to feed. I have spent hundreds of hours with these baby lemon sharks and know many of them individually.”

#15 Mangroves & Landscape, Highly Commended: Surrounded By Nature By Shyjith Onden Cheriyath, Uae

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

Perhaps more appropriate in the “Threats” category, golfers can experience winding waterways, lush greenery and abundant wildlife of the mangroves while playing at this course.

“Nestled amidst the enchanting mangrove forests of the United Arab Emirates, Al Zohra Mangrove Golf offers a golfing experience unlike any other. As golfers step onto the course, they are greeted by a breathtaking landscape of winding waterways, lush greenery, and an abundance of wildlife.”

#16 Mangroves & Underwater, Highly Commended: Face-To-Face By Valentina Cucchiara, Mexico

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

A young manatee feeds at the bottom of a shallow lagoon in Mexico. Boat traffic, deforestation, and pollution all threaten manatees and their habitats. Manatees are drawn to mangroves as the trees grow tightly together, creating small open passageways over the water that provide safe underwater shelter for manatees to rest, raise young, and find food.
“I have enjoyed getting to know this juvenile manatee over the past year, and he is a curious one…I always descend away from him when he’s feeding and wait to see if he approaches me. At times, I am the one who needs to move now as he won’t budge!”

#17 Young Mangrove Photographer Of The Year Winner: Eye Contact By Katanyou Wuttichaitanakorn, Thailand

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

A baby Golden-spotted Mudskipper snapped on the edge of a mangrove in Samut Sakorn province, Thailand.
Mudskippers are an amphibious fish and can use their pectoral fins to “walk” on land.

#18 Mangroves & Wildlife, Highly Commended: The Water Is On Fire By Vidyasagar Hariharan, India

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

The Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary hosts one of the largest congregations of greater and lesser flamingos in the world. During peak migration months, it’s not uncommon to see tens of thousands of flamingos gathered in the sanctuary. The sanctuary provides an ideal feeding ground for the flamingos, as it is rich in brine shrimp and other aquatic organisms, which are a staple of their diet.

“The dull water of the Thane creek looks like it’s on fire with these pink pilgrims – a sight to behold.”

#19 Mangroves & Landscape Runner Up: Pink Mangrove Lagoon By Felipe Santander, Colombia

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

Unique conditions in temperature, minerals, and algae turn this lagoon in Colombia pink. Photographer Felipe Santander spent four days and 15 drone batteries to capture the perfect shot, complete with the formation of birds flying over the pink lake. The salinity of the seawater combined with rising temperatures makes for an ideal situation where the microscopic pink algae can thrive. This is likely to become more common with rising temperatures due to climate change.

“In the least expected area of a mangrove in the Caribbean coast of Colombia, near Cartagena, a pink lagoon forms seasonally, given unique conditions of water ph, temperature, bird presence, and light – a magical and unexpected sight.”

#20 Mangroves & Threats Winner: The Theatre Of Plastic By Emanuele Biggi, Malaysia

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

A land hermit crab wanders around at night, close to the beach of Pom Pom island, Sabah, using a plastic deodorant plug instead of a shell.

“Pom Pom island is a violated paradise, where the small island and its coral reef are continuously raped by tons of plastic material coming from nearby Bornean shores, especially from Semporna city. When I found this poor hermit crab… I knew I found my sad ambassador for this terrible human problem.”

Hermit crabs rely on empty shells for shelter and protection. Plastic debris, including bottle caps and other discarded items, can sometimes resemble shells. Hermit crabs may attempt to inhabit these unnatural “shells,” which do not provide the necessary protection and can hinder their growth and survival.

Marine animals often mistake plastic debris for food. This can lead to ingestion, which can cause internal injuries, blockages, and malnutrition. Discarded fishing nets, lines, and other plastic debris can entangle and trap marine animals, leading to injury, drowning, or suffocation. Seabirds, seals, sea lions, and sea turtles are common victims of entanglement.

#21 Mangroves & Wildlife, Highly Commended: Gathering By Shyjith Onden Cheriyath, Uae

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

The mangrove forest in Ras Al Khor serves as a crucial stopover and wintering ground for thousands of migrating flamingos. These elegant birds migrate to the sanctuary in large numbers during the winter months, seeking refuge from colder climates. Ras Al Khor provides them with an abundant source of food, including the shrimp and small fish found in its brackish waters. The sight of these graceful birds against the backdrop of Dubai’s modern skyline is a stunning juxtaposition of nature and urbanity.

#22 Mangroves & People Winner: Séphora The Clam Diver By Kris Pannecoucke, Democratic Republic Of The Congo

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

Between river, sea and land, the Mangrove Marine Park, a fragile nature reserve in Bas-Congo, is the kingdom of turtles, manatees and women who harvest clams.

“The Mangrove Marine Park is a veritable maze of islands and channels. Women like Séphora dive up to four metres for clams. They sell skewers with clam meat in the cities of Muanda and Boma. Entire islands, like Kimwabi where Séphora lives, are built on empty shells.”

Since the dawn of time, people have been diving in the mangroves in search of clams. At a depth of four meters, she carefully scans the ground with her hands until she finds clams. She grabs a handful and emerges, throws them into her canoe and disappears into the water again. She spends hours in the Congo River until her canoe is full or the tide comes in and her treasure disappears into inaccessible depths. The current is treacherous, in the Congo estuary it is so strong that sediments are carried up to 800 kilometers into the Atlantic Ocean. Séphora and dozens of other women dive for clams in the Parc Marin des Mangroves, a fragile nature reserve.

#23 Mangroves & Underwater, Highly Commended: Attachment By Puttarat Horwang, Indonesia

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

Colorful, soft coral grows on the roots of mangroves in the crystal-clear waters of Bluewater in Raja Ampat.

“While most areas around mangroves tend to have turbid water, this location stands out. Positioned in the middle of the ocean, the soil particles that typically cloud the water are swept away by the tide, rendering the water in that area clear. The currents allow soft corals to coexist with the roots of the mangrove trees.

#24 Mangroves & Threats, Highly Commended: The Aftermath By Esteban Ernesto Dupinet Valencia, Mexico

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

#25 Mangroves & People, Highly Commented: Hope By Sergio Izquierdo, Guatemala

Image source: Mangrove Photography Awards

Teaching future generations to preserve mangrove ecosystems.

“After ecocide by the palm industry, flooding the biggest mangrove reserve in Central America, Manchon Guamuchal (Guatemala), with chemicals, a group of NGOs and environmentalists carried out the largest animal liberation in Guatemala, where more than 300 animals were released into the wild.”

Saumya Ratan

Saumya is an explorer of all things beautiful, quirky, and heartwarming. With her knack for art, design, photography, fun trivia, and internet humor, she takes you on a journey through the lighter side of pop culture.

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