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Award-winning snaps give stark glimpse of waste crisis in world's oceans

There's something fishy about this acclaimed photograph - and it's not just the lizardfish caught on camera.

While it may raise a smile, the plight of marine wildlife appearing to toke on a cigarette also highlights a more serious statement about waste in the world's oceans.

The jarring image, taken by Canadian photographer Steven Kovacs off the coast of Florida, is among those commended by judges at this year's Ocean Photography Awards. 

Commended in the Conservation category is this jarring image by Canadian Steven Kovacs. Showing the hazards of littering, it sees a lizardfish try to devour a cigarette filter off the coast of Florida 

A seahorse clings to a face mask in this poignant shot of pandemic life taken by Nicholas Samaras near Stratoni, Greece

Showcasing the deep blue sea and the life within in all its beauty and complexity, photographers swam through shark-infested waters and blooms of jellyfish to get the perfect shot. 

Australian photographer Aimee Jan was named the overall winner as the Ocean Photographer of the Year 2021. 

Her striking image of a green sea turtle was declared the 'unanimous winner' by the judges and trumped 'thousands of submissions'. 

Behold the gold medal winner. While snorkelling in the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, Ocean Photographer of the Year Aimee Jan turned her lens on a green turtle. 'I was out snorkelling when one of my colleagues told me there was a turtle under a ledge in a school of glass fish, about 10 metres down,' she recalls. 'When I dived down to look, the fish separated around the turtle perfectly. I said to her: "I think I just took the best photo I have ever taken"'

Meanwhile, Exeter-based photographer Henley Spiers dived into second place with his breath-taking shot of gannets off the coast of Scotland.

The judges say: 'The Ocean Photography Awards has a simple mission: to shine a light on the beauty of the ocean and the threats it faces.'

Second place in Ocean Photography Awards goes to this stunning photograph taken by Henley Spiers near the Isle of Noss, Scotland. 'Diving in amidst the barrage of gannets, I witnessed the violent synchronicity of these impressive seabirds as they embarked on fishing dives,' says the photographer. 'They hit the water at 60mph, an impact they can only withstand thanks to specially evolved air sacs in the head and chest. The bird’s agility transfers from air to sea where it also swims with incredible speed'

Another of Spiers' photographs, also commended in the Conservation category, sees an olive ridley turtle ensnared by fishing gear. The unfortunate turtle was paddling far offshore in the Pacific Ocean, near Baja California Sur, Mexico, when the picture was taken

There are seven categories in the competition, including the debut of the Female Fifty Fathoms Award, which celebrates female ocean photographers.

For those hoping to get a closer look at the beautiful collection of photographs, a free outdoor exhibition on the Queen’s Walk, alongside the River Thames, will be open to the public until October 17.  

Say cheese: Introducing 'Snooty' the lemon shark, photographed off the coast of the town of Jupiter, Florida. This snapshot was plucked from French photographer Galice Hoarau's portfolio, which is commended by judges in the Collective Portfolio category 

Hoarau is also behind this remarkable photograph, which shows a wolffish father carefully watching over his nest. It was taken in Norway's Saltstraumen strait

A juvenile trevally fish protects itself in a box jellyfish in Lembeh, Indonesia, in this intriguing picture from Hoarau's portfolio 

A shoal of fish glide over a green turtle on a reef near Indonesia's Selayar Island in this vibrant snapshot. Again, it was taken by Hoarau

In this magnificent black-and-white photograph, Hoarau captured Atlantic spotted dolphins swimming upwards in unison off the coast of Bimini, Bahamas.

Taking the lead in the Exploration category is this photograph, snared by New Yorker Martin Broen. During a trip to Mexico, he explored the natural cavern of cenote Dos Pisos in Quintana Roo. There, he documented how the light plays against the speleothems, which are geological formations of mineral deposits

Kovacs' work is also commended in the Collective Portfolio category. One of the photographs picked out by the judges is above. It depicts a male yellowhead jawfish 'mouthbrooding' its eggs until they are ready to hatch. Mouthbrooding, also known as oral incubation, is when eggs are carried and incubated in the parent's mouth

Kovacs is also behind this image, showing a rare deepwater cusk eel larva swim off the coast of Florida. It wins second place in the Exploration category 

Aussie photographer Alex Kydd turned his camera on a shiver of grey reef sharks for this chilling image. Hungry for a feed, the sharks are seen hunting and chasing a huge school of bait fish. The photograph is one of many featured in Kydd's portfolio, which comes third in the Collective Portfolio category 

Another bewitching image snapped by Kydd sees a fever of cownose rays displaying 'what is believed to be mating or courtship behaviour', according to the photographer. The image, taken in Coral Bay, Western Australia, is also commended in the Exploration category

A freediver is seen moving through a bloom of moon jellyfish in Raja Ampat, West Papua, in this enchanting image - another gem from Kydd's portfolio 

Another impressive shot from Kydd's portfolio is this picture of a whale shark swimming through the depths of the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia

Look above and you'll see a whale shark feeding on a school of baitfish. Again, Kydd got the shot on the Ningaloo Reef

German snapper Stefan Christmann is the overall champion in the Collective Portfolio category. His portfolio includes this touching image, which shows a lone emperor penguin chick standing on the edge of an ice shelf, gazing down at the water below. It was captured in Atka Bay, Antarctica, and is also commended in the Conservation category

Another striking shot from Christmann's portfolio is this captivating picture of an emperor penguin colony in Atka Bay. According to the photographer, in late spring, the colony mainly consists of chicks

LEFT: This heartwarming image by Christmann shows two emperor penguin parents dutifully shielding their young chick from the drifting snow. It was also captured in Atka Bay. RIGHT: Two grey whales were Mikayla Jones' subjects for this mesmerising photograph. Taken in Baja California, Mexico, the photographer notes that the mammals 'seemingly posed for the camera'. The snap secures third place in the Young Ocean Photographer of the Year category

Cast your eye above and you'll see the winner of the Female Fifty Fathoms Award. The beautiful image was snapped by Renee Capozzola, showing a lone blacktip reef shark lining up its dorsal fin with the setting sun in Moorea, French Polynesia. 'Sharks are plentiful in French Polynesia due to their strong legal protections and are a sign of a healthy marine ecosystem,' the photographer explains 

Another image from Capozzola's winning portfolio shows two mating green sea turtles at the water's surface in Maui, Hawaii. 'Just after the sun had set, I noticed a large turtle underneath me swimming very fast, so I quickly slipped under the surface to see what was going on and then saw two turtles come together and flip upside down,' the photographer recalls. 'The turtles then rose to the surface and started mating right in front of me.' According to LA-based photographer and biology teacher Capozzola, the turtles were splashing about and spinning in a circle. She adds: 'This is the only time I have seen turtles mate although there are many turtles in Hawaii thanks to their strong legal protections' 

The crown for Young Ocean Photographer of the Year goes to Hannah Le Leu, for this adorable snapshot of a green sea turtle hatchling. According to Le Leu, the turtle 'cautiously surfaced for air, to a sky full of hungry birds' near Heron Island, Australia

A dead gannet hangs from the piece of discarded fishing gear it used to build its nest in this poignant image, which is commended in the Conservation category. Henley Spiers immortalised the moment on the Isle of Noss, Scotland

Sebastien Pontoizeau's breathtaking picture of a freediver trying to capture a photo of a humpback whale is third in the adventure category. It was snapped off the coast of Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean 

Ben Thouard was behind the camera for this amazing image, which was taken in Tahiti and documents surfer Matahi Drollet move through the barrel of a wave known locally as 'Teahupo’o'. The picture reigns supreme in the Adventure category

Another image captured by Thouard wins second place in the Adventure category. In the photograph, the 'Teahupo’o' wave in Tahiti is seen crashing from below the water's surface 

Matty Smith's incredible body of work comes second in the Collective Portfolio category. Taken in Jervis Bay, Australia, the picture to the left shows 'Sea Sparkle', which is caused by a type of phytoplankton with the ability to produce and emit light, washing ashore. The photographer recalled the Sea Sparkle 'glowing brilliantly in the ebb and flow of the lapping waves'. If you look to the right, you'll see another of Smith's photographs. This one shows a lone freediver exploring the spectacular Swallows Cave in Tonga 

Phil de Glanville secured this high-octane shot of a surfer, named Jack Robinson, riding the famous break known as ‘The Right’ in Denmark, Western Australia. According to the photographer, 'The Right' is home to some of the heaviest waves in the world. The picture wins the Community Choice Award

Drum roll please... this image, taken by Matty Smith, is the overall bronze medal winner in the Ocean Photography Awards. The powerful picture shows a newly hatched hawksbill turtle - measuring just 3.5cm (1.4inches) long - taking its first swim, off the coast of Lissenung Island, Papua New Guinea. Smith reveals: 'It had emerged from an egg just minutes earlier with approximately 100 of its siblings. They quickly made their way into the ocean to disperse as rapidly as they could and avoid predation from birds and fish.' He adds: 'I had to work quickly for this shot'

Martin Broen captured this photograph of a cave diver silhouetted against a colourful backdrop in Cenote Chikin Ha, created by tannic acid, in Quintano Roo, Mexico

A humpback whale dives into the blue, emitting a trail of bubbles as it descends, in this photograph taken in Okinawa, Japan by Daisuke Kurashima

Here's looking at you: Matty Smith captured this portrait of a squid at Bushrangers Bay in Australia

Thien Nguyen Ngoc took this photo of anchovy fishing boats photographed from above along the coastline of Phu Yen province, Vietnam

Tanya Houppermans captured this American crocodile as it glided through the water at sunset at Gardens of the Queen, Cuba, a protected marine reserve since 1996

Grant Thomas found these playful grey seals, a species that has been protected in the UK for decades under the Conservation of Seals Act 1970 around the Farne Islands

Sea lions swarm a diver in Vancouver Island, Canada in this photograph by Steve Woods

Scott Portelli captured the moment a swarm of False killer whales, in black and white surrounded a diver in Ovaka, Tonga

Photographer Stefan Christmann took this stunning photography of male emperor penguins huddling during polar night to stay warm as a group

A whale shark is surrounded by a school of juvenile golden trevally on the Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia in this photo snapped by Alex Kydd

Photographer Rodrigo Thome travelled to Darwin Island in the Galapagos to capture this shiver of hammerhead sharks

Stefan Christmann captured this intimate moment between two emperor penguins mating in Antartica

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