An aerial photograph of two boats, with nets cast wide fishing for anchovies in the waters of Vietnam, has won the Save Our Seas Foundation Marine Conservation category of the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2022 award.
It’s a stunning image – the contrasting colors of the water, the near symmetry of the boats, the embryonic shape of the nets – but it also serves as “a stark visual reminder of man’s reach and control over the surrounding habitat and its devastating effect on the natural balance,” according to the award’s judge, Peter Rowlands.
It was taken by 34-year-old Vietnamese engineer Thien Nguyen Ngoc, who describes photography as a hobby and said it was “an honor to be chosen as the winner.” Ngoc says he had visited the waters of Phu Yen province, where he took the photograph, numerous times before but on this occasion, he saw many vessels gathered to catch the anchovies.
Salted anchovy is an important ingredient in traditional Vietnamese fish sauce, but it is also a dietary staple for whales, tuna, sea birds and other marine animals that face population decline when there is overfishing, according to the photographer.
Ngoc says he saw an opportunity to use photography to spread the message that while anchovies are very small fish, they “play a crucial role in the food chain of the ocean,” adding that overfishing is a problem around the world.
“Photography is a very powerful tool for me and photographers like me to deliver a conservation message to the world because the language of photography is universal,” Ngoc said. “It doesn’t matter what part of the world you come from, what language you speak. Photography can expose conservation issues in a compelling and easy way to understand.”
The Save Our Seas Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to protecting ocean life, especially sharks and rays. Jade Schultz from the Foundation wrote in an email that Ngoc’s image was “an extremely striking and engaging photo.”
“Overfishing is the greatest threat to our oceans, but it is also a very complex one. Many generations of fishers have supported their families off our oceans, with around three billion people in coastal communities relying on seafood as their primary source of protein,” she added. “We need to ensure that these resources are managed sustainably to protect marine life and whole ecosystems and the livelihoods of those who rely on our oceans, even from people that only know how to bass fish.”
The conservation award is just one of the categories in the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition. The overall prize was won by Rafael Fernandez Caballero for his image titled “Giants of the night,” which shows whale sharks feeding together at night in the Maldives. “Magic happens in the ocean every day, but if we don’t protect the oceans and sharks, these moments will soon be a thing of the past,” he said in a statement.
Schultz wrote that “In terms of marine conservation … photography is an essential tool in that photographs have the power to translate information, stir emotion and affect meaningful change in the viewer in a way that no presentation of facts can.
“Beyond shining a spotlight on the multiple anthropogenic threats our oceans face, from overfishing to disappearing critical habitats, we hope that the images are able to educate and spur positive action.”