For all we know about the planet, though there’s still plenty we don’t of course, the ocean remains a vast mystery. Even to those of us who’ve spent a great chunk of our lives bobbing and swimming in the brine, some of our best years, even. Which is why detailed, beautiful photos of underwater goings-on fascinate so. Unknown and unknowable animals, great colonies of sea plants, vanishing corals. It truly is an alien world just off the coastline.

For the past seven years, the Underwater Photography Guide has run an annual competition showcasing the best of the world’s ocean photography. In 2018, submissions poured in from across the globe, some 70 countries in all. An explosion of interest in underwater photography buoyed no doubt by the increasing availability of quality waterproof cameras. The UPG received more submissions than ever in 2018, everybody competing for very cool prize packages, including liveaboard trips for diving and photography on boats sailing through the most beautiful waters on the planet.

It’s a good time for underwater photography to grow in popularity. Climate change is rapidly altering the oceanic ecosystem and chemical balance of the oceans. The more the general public sees of the strange and beautiful world under threat, the better the chances for improvement in ocean health. That’s especially so in particularly sensitive ocean zones, like coral reef systems in tropical zones worldwide.

Best of Show went to Duncan Murrell for his “Devil Ray Ballet” (below). The shot consists of three spinetail devil rays pinwheeling around each other as if a dance. The image was captured off Honda Bay, Palawan, Philippines, and depicts a rarely seen mating soiree between two males and a female.

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We’ve compiled a list of our favorites of the competition, including winners of a handful of categories. A full list of winners and well-regarded submissions, as well as the stories behind some of the photos and the equipment and settings used, can be found at the UWG website. Our curated list, consisting of everything from macro images of otherworldly creatures to swarms of rays and curious seals, is below.

 

“Devil Ray Ballet.” Photo: Duncan Murrell/Ocean Art

 

Photo: Alexandre St-Jean/Ocean Art

 

“Special Encounter.” First place, Novice DSLR. Photo: Alvin Cheung/Ocean Art

 

“Gentle Giants.” First place, Wide-angle. Photo: Francois Baelen/Ocean Art.

 

Photo: Edward Herreño/Ocean Art

 

“Ancistrocheirus.” First place, Macro. Photo: Jeff Milisen/Ocean Art

 

Photo: Debbie Wallace/Ocean Art.

 

Photo: Eiko Jones/Ocean Art

 

Photo: Fabrice Dudenhofer/Ocean Art

 

Photo: Antonio Pastrana/Ocean Art

 

Photo: Liang Fu/Ocean Art

 

Photo: Guillaume Néry/Ocean Art

 

Photo: Pier Mane/Ocean Art