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An award-winning photo of a lonely Arctic bear tells a story we can’t ignore about the future of our planet

2016 National Geographic Photo Contest
Patty Waymire/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
Nowhere to roam.
By Johnny Simon
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

National Geographic today announced the winners of their 2016 Nature Photographer of the Year competition. Coming away with an honorable mention in the “Environmental Issues” category is a solemn photo of a polar bear resting on a rocky shore off the Barter Islands in Alaska. The photographer Patty Waymire noted “there is no snow when, at this time of year, there should be.”

“The locals in Kaktovik noted that it’s been an unseasonably warm winter, and that the ice will be late in forming this year” she said. “This will have an impact on the local polar bear population when it comes time to hunt seals for their food in the winter months.”

Sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctica is at record lows. Recent findings by climate scientists found that a portion of sea ice roughly the size of India has melted as worldwide temperatures rise.

Several of this year’s winning photos, such as glimpses of wildfires in Europe and pollution in Greenland, show our planet’s precarious situation. But many entries also showed the magic of the natural world we haven’t yet lost.

Greg LeCoeur/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
“I captured this image during the migration of the sardines along the wild coast of South Africa. Natural predation, sardines are preyed upon by cape gannet birds and common dolphins. The hunt begins with common dolphins that have developed special hunting techniques. With remarkable eyesight, the gannets follow the dolphins before diving in a free fall from 30 to 40 meters high, piercing the surface of the water head first at a speed of 80km/h to get their fill of sardines.”
Vadim Balakin/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
“These polar bear remains have been discovered at one of the islands of northern Svalbard, Norway. We do not know whether the bear died from starving or aging, but more likely if we see the good teeth status, it was from starving. They say nowadays that such remains are found very often, as global warming and the ice situation influence the polar bear population.”
Ken Bower/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
“In Greenland’s pristine landscape lies a US Air Force base which was abandoned in 1947 and everything was left behind, vehicles, asbestos laced structures, and over 10,000 aviation fuel barrels. The Inuits who live in the region call the rusted remains American Flowers. In 2014 and 2015 I camped out solo to photograph it. In 2015 my 5 day solo camping trip turned into 8, as I couldn’t get picked up do to the weather.”
Sergej Chursyn/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
“A young woman in bikini looks at an approaching forest fire near the beach. A firefighting plane drops water to extinguish the wildfire. This image was taken at the beach of Son Serra, on the island of Mallorca on Aug. 18, 2016.”
Eleanor Ryder/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
“This image is a magnification of plastic particles in eyeliner exploring just one facet of the synthetic swarm suspended in our oceans. The particles, lash lengthening fibres, illuminating powders and glitters these products contain are in fact tiny pieces of plastic. Every time we wash these products from our bodies or ingest them as we lick the glosses from our lips, we unknowingly add to the trillions of micro plastic particles currently infesting every level of the ocean.”
Santiago Borja/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
“A colossal Cumulonimbus flashes over the Pacific Ocean as we circle around it at 37000 feet en route to South America”
Jacob Kaptein/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
“To restore original natural dynamics in streams many measures are necessary. In the ‘Leuvenumse beek’ a nature organisation tried to increase heterogeneity of the river bottom and water retention by putting dead wood in the stream system. In autumn when rainfall is high, pieces of forest get flooded. Once i saw this little beech in the water, trying to survive under these harsh conditions. I returned sometimes to this place to take pictures. One evening all the conditions were satisfactory.”
Zsolt Kudich/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
“A remarkable conservation success story, the graceful Great Egret was saved from the brink of disappearance in Hungary, when in 1921 there were only 31 mating pairs remaining. Less than a century later, international conservation efforts have triumphed. We can now count over 3,000 mating pairs in Hungary alone.”
Lawrence Chia Boon Oo/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
“The crow saw the puffy owl resting and decided to chase away the owl from its territory.”
Michael O'Neill/2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year
“Fry of a Peacock Bass hover around their mom for protection against predators. Peacock Bass, part of the Cichlid family, exercise excellent parental car and will protect their young against any threat that approaches them. This tropical species from South America was intentionally introduced in South Florida during the 1980s to control the African Tilapia, another invasive species.”

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