Skip to navigationSkip to content

An award-winning photo shows how quickly human error can transform the environment

UPY2017/Csaba Tökölyi
A beautiful ruin.
  • Corinne Purtill
By Corinne Purtill


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

A moment’s judgment can affect the environment for generations to come, a fact beautifully illustrated in a prize-winning entry in the 2017 Underwater Photographer of the Year contest.

Hungarian photographer Csaba Tökölyi took the above photograph of the wreck of the Loullia. The carrier ran aground in the Straits of Tiran near Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 1981 and was abandoned by the crew after unsuccessful attempts to float it.

Like many shipwrecks, the Loullia has become part of the ecosystem. “Soft corals develop very soon and they can become shelter for schools of juvenile fish,” Tökölyi wrote in his entry caption. “But also, [wrecks] can have a devastating effect on their surroundings.” Part of the ship collapsed last summer, Tökölyi wrote. In a few generations, most traces of the ruin may be gone, Tökölyi wrote:

Soft corals develop very soon and they can become shelter for schools of juvenile fish. But also, they can have a devastating effect on their surroundings. This wreck sits on top of Gordon reef, battered by the waves and is slowly deteriorating. Last summer, part of the superstructure collapsed, and the wreck lost it’s epic, cinematic look. In a few decades, the reef should be free again from the remains of this once huge freighter.

“Wrecks” is one category in the annual competition, which this year received entries from 67 different countries.

The grand prize went to Gabriel Barathieu; judges praised his photograph “Dancing Octopus” as “both balletic and malevolent.” That photo, and more winning images are below. Unless otherwise noted, captions were written by the photographers.

UPY2017/Gabriel Barathieu
Winner, Underwater Photographer of the Year. From judge Alex Mustard: “Both balletic and malevolent, this image shows that the octopus means business as it hunts in a shallow lagoon. The way it moves is so different from any predator on land, this truly could be an alien from another world. A truly memorable creature, beautifully photographed.”
UPY2017/Andrey Narchuk
“‘Precontinental’ is not just a wreck. It was dream of Jacques-Yves Cousteau and humanity about life in the Ocean. Fifty years ago, we were closer to that dream than now. Now the only fish live in this residential unit.”
UPY2017/Jean Tresfon
Runner up, Behavior:  Although the water visibility was really good, inside the krill patch it was much reduced. Without warning the whales appeared just metres away with their pleats distended as they surfaced with huge mouthfuls of krill. Realising that they must be feeding deeper down I descended into the darker water to find the thickest concentration of krill. Suddenly a humpback appeared right in front of me, its huge mouth wide open as it sieved the water for the tiny crustaceans.”
UPY2017/Qing Lin
Winner, Behavior: “Clown anemonefish and anemones enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The parasitic isopods like to hang out in the mouths of anemonefish. Perhaps because of the isopods, clown anemonefish often open their mouths. These three particular fish were very curious. As I approached, they danced about the camera lens. It took me six dives, patience and luck to capture the exact moment when all three fish opened their mouths to reveal their guests. Finally, on the last day, on the last dive, I succeeded.”
UPY2017/Lorincz Ferenc
Winner, Portrait: “We were photographing a big school of bat fish in front of the fully blue background in Shark Rafeen, Rash Mohamed National Park in Egypt, but it is extremely hard to capture a school of fish in a nice position, especially with divers swimming by all the time, so I gave up trying. Not so far from the others I noticed a crevice in a rock, which fish used as a cleaning station, and slowly, very slowly, I swam into the gap, switching places with the cleaning fish. This made it possible to photograph this bat fish front on.”
UPY2017/Damien Mauric
Highly commended, Portrait: “On his visit to the Galapagos islands, Charles Darwin was revolted by the animals’ appearance, writing: ‘The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by large, disgusting clumsy Lizards. They are as black as the porous rocks over which they crawl & seek their prey from the Sea. I call them “imps of darkness.” They assuredly well-become the land they inhabit.’ The marine iguana are all but monsters. Endemic to the Galapagos, it’s a rare privilege to share a moment underwater with this animal now considered as an endangered species.”
UPY2017/Léna Remy
Commended, Up and Coming: “Looking at this beautiful frame of flower coral, on the Tulamben USS Liberty wreck, I noticed this yellow fish turning quickly around the coral. I waited for the fish to take this posture in the middle of the coral window. I was happy to capture the short moment the fish looked at the camera, exactly in the middle of the blue.”


📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.