Year after year, creatives continue to inspire us with their incredible shots that help raise awareness of the people and wildlife that rely on mangrove forests, the threats these ecosystems face, and why urgent action is needed to protect them. This year’s awards has been one of the most diverse yet, with over 2,000 entries from 72 nations around the world, showcasing the beauty and global significance of mangrove ecosystems.
This year, Soham Bhattacharyya has been crowned Mangrove Photographer of the Year with his image, ‘The Finest “Flower” of the Mangroves’, a special shot that captures the curious gaze of a young, endangered tigress in the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve.
In addition, winners have been selected in 6 categories – People, Landscape, Underwater, Threats, Wildlife, and Stories (a portfolio category) – while photographers under the age of 24 competed to become the Young Mangrove Photographer of the Year.
The photos are a compelling reminder of the importance of mangroves for the diversity of life across our coastlines as photographers captured unique relationships and moments from mangrove ecosystems both above and below the water line. They’re also a stark reminder of our need to protect these unique and precious ecosystems.
Selecting our finalists was no mean feat, even for our international panel of judges, which this year included Daisy Gilardini, Octavio Aburto, Daniel Kordan and Fulvio Eccardi.
“The images from this year captivated our imagination... giving us hope and illuminating a positive future for mangrove ecosystems,” Octavio said.
Today, less than half the world’s original mangrove forest cover remains, and it has never been more important to promote the conservation of these fragile ecosystems. The Mangrove Photography Awards is a vital platform for creatives to captivate our imagination and spark action.
“Photographs of mangroves and contests related to them play a multifaceted role in advocating for the conservation and protection of these critical coastal forests,” Fulvio said.
Enjoy the selection of winning images below. To see all of the 2,210 entries, visit our mangrove gallery here.
‘The Finest “Flower” of the Mangroves’ captures a heart-warming image of a young Royal Bengal tigress through the mangrove bushes of a fragile natural wonder.
“The solitary figure of the tiger, standing amidst the lush green mangrove forest vegetation, poignantly underscores the isolation it must endure in an ever-shrinking habitat”, said judge Daisy Gilardini.
There are perhaps only 200 of these magnificent animals in the Sundarbans mangrove forest. According to the last survey conducted in 2018, there were 114 tigers in the Bangladesh portion of the Sundarbans. West Bengal Forest Department recent tiger estimation exercise for 2020-21, puts the number of big cats in the region at 96. These iconic and endangered Bengals are the only tigers adapted to live in a mangrove habitat.
Sadly, the largest mangrove forest in the world is also under threat, with nearly a staggering 25 percent lost (136.77 square km) due to erosion and human pressures over the past three decades.
Mangrove roots emerge from shallow water deep inside a mangrove forest. Brazil is home to extensive mangrove ecosystems along its coastline, with approximately 7% of the world's mangrove area. Like in many parts of the world, mangroves face threats from deforestation, pollution, and climate change impacts, such as rising sea levels.
“As the low tide allowed me to walk through the trees, I saw this scene where the roots were partially submerged. I decided to use the long exposure technique to soften the surface of the water and transform the photo into black and white to give the scene a sinister look.”
Unique conditions in temperature, minerals, and algae turn this lagoon in Colombia pink. Photographer Felipe Santander spent four days and 15 drone batteries to capture the perfect shot, complete with the formation of birds flying over the pink lake. The salinity of the seawater combined with rising temperatures makes for an ideal situation where the microscopic pink algae can thrive. This is likely to become more common with rising temperatures due to climate change.
“In the least expected area of a mangrove in the Caribbean coast of Colombia, near Cartagena, a pink lagoon forms seasonally, given unique conditions of water ph, temperature, bird presence, and light – a magical and unexpected sight.”
In the mangrove forest of Colombia’s Utría National Park, a Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus) is nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding branches while it perches motionless on its nest.
“As I didn’t want to risk disturbing the Potoo into flight, I photographed it with a long telephoto lens some distance away and partially obscured by the branches of intervening mangrove trees. It was only after looking through the lens that I realized there was actually a single egg.”
Utría National Park, located on Colombia's Pacific coast in the Chocó region, is renowned for its stunning biodiversity. One of the highlights of the national park is the potoo, a fascinating and cryptic nocturnal bird. One striking feature of the potoo is its remarkable camouflage. During the day, it perches on tree branches, remaining perfectly still, with its cryptic plumage resembling a broken tree branch or stump. This camouflage helps it blend seamlessly with its surroundings, making it exceptionally challenging to spot.
Taken from a helicopter while conducting a scientific study of waterbirds, Mark captured the rarely observed mating behaviour of two large Nurse Sharks in the shallow waters off the mangrove-lined (and aptly named) Shark Point in the Everglades National Park, Florida.
“Sheltered mangrove habitats that are largely free of human disturbance are critical mating and nursery habitats for a number of shark species, and protecting these areas is essential to sustaining shark populations.”
The tangled prop roots and submerged vegetation offer a secure environment where adult sharks can engage in courtship without the disturbances and turbulence often found in open waters.
A land hermit crab wanders around at night, close to the beach of Pom Pom island, Sabah, using a plastic deodorant plug instead of a shell.
“Pom Pom island is a violated paradise, where the small island and its coral reef are continuously raped by tons of plastic material coming from nearby Bornean shores, especially from Semporna city. When I found this poor hermit crab… I knew I found my sad ambassador for this terrible human problem.”
Hermit crabs rely on empty shells for shelter and protection. Plastic debris, including bottle caps and other discarded items, can sometimes resemble shells. Hermit crabs may attempt to inhabit these unnatural "shells," which do not provide the necessary protection and can hinder their growth and survival.
Marine animals often mistake plastic debris for food. This can lead to ingestion, which can cause internal injuries, blockages, and malnutrition. Discarded fishing nets, lines, and other plastic debris can entangle and trap marine animals, leading to injury, drowning, or suffocation. Seabirds, seals, sea lions, and sea turtles are common victims of entanglement.
A worker carries a crate full of garbage from the North Coastline of the city of Jakarta, Indonesia. “All of the garbage came from the river inside the city and flowed north to the coastline and piled up massively, disturbing the growth of the mangrove trees.”
Plastic debris, such as bottles, bags, and microplastics, can accumulate in mangrove forests. This physical contamination can smother and damage mangrove roots, which are essential for stabilizing the coastline and providing habitat for numerous species.
Plastics can obstruct the flow of water within and around mangrove habitats. This obstruction can disrupt natural hydrological processes that are vital for maintaining the health of mangroves and the organisms they support
Plastics can leach harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil and water as they break down. These chemicals can negatively impact mangrove ecosystems by affecting water quality, soil health, and the health of the organisms living in and around mangroves.
A juvenile lemon shark swims in shallow mangrove forests in the Bahamas. Lemon sharks are probably the most understood sharks in the world, thanks to over 30 years of studies by Bimini Shark Lab.
“Lemon sharks spend their first 4-6 years in shallow waters where mangrove forests protect them from bigger predators. They build friendships with other juvenile sharks and learn how to hunt. They are absolutely gorgeous, smart, curious and clumsy. Mangroves build a perfect ecosystem and are their nursery and for so many other species.”
The sharks also use natal philopatry, meaning when mature (12 - 14 years old) females are ready to pup, they return to the same mangrove nursery that they were born in and drop their own pups there.
A lush and thriving mangrove forest grows atop a vibrant coral reef in Raja Ampat's Gam island – a split shot depicting two ecosystems that are vital for the health of our oceans.
“Quietly swimming on the surface, trying not to disturb the water, I snapped this photograph using a strobe to light the corals at the bottom and ambient light for the trees above.”
Connectivity between mangroves and coral reefs is a critical ecological relationship that plays a significant role in the health and sustainability of these ecosystems. The Indo-Pacific region is known for its extensive mangrove forests, with Indonesia alone comprising one fifth of the global total. Mangroves often fringe coral reef coastline and the connectivity between mangroves and corals is of critical ecological importance. Mangroves provide many benefits to coral reefs including protection from sedimentation, filtering nutrients from land and rivers, and a nursery habitat for many species of juvenile fish.
Between river, sea and land, the Mangrove Marine Park, a fragile nature reserve in Bas-Congo, is the kingdom of turtles, manatees and women who harvest clams.
“The Mangrove Marine Park is a veritable maze of islands and channels. Women like Séphora dive up to four metres for clams. They sell skewers with clam meat in the cities of Muanda and Boma. Entire islands, like Kimwabi where Séphora lives, are built on empty shells.”
Since the dawn of time, people have been diving in the mangroves in search of clams. At a depth of four meters, she carefully scans the ground with her hands until she finds clams. She grabs a handful and emerges, throws them into her canoe and disappears into the water again. She spends hours in the Congo River until her canoe is full or the tide comes in and her treasure disappears into inaccessible depths. The current is treacherous, in the Congo estuary it is so strong that sediments are carried up to 800 kilometers into the Atlantic Ocean. Séphora and dozens of other women dive for clams in the Parc Marin des Mangroves, a fragile nature reserve.
A fisherman navigates the winter mangroves in Hue, Vietnam. Ru Cha Mangroves Forest is nestled in Tam Giang Lagoon in Thua Thien-Hue Province. In the local dialect, ru means forest while cha is the name of the trees growing densely in the forest.
“Ru Cha is a mangrove forest that is considered the green lung of Tam Giang lagoon. Each season, the scenery in Ru Cha has its own beauty. In winter, the mangrove trees shed its leaves, leaving thin white trunks. Seeing that scene is like a giant spider web.”
The Sundarbans, which means “beautiful forest”, is one of the most vulnerable areas in the country to the impacts of climate change. It is one of the wildest places left on Earth: a biodiversity hotspot and a complex tidal network of waterways and islands that is only accessible by boat. It is a delicate ecosystem that is under pressure from human development and the climate crisis, which is threatening the ecology of the Sundarbans.
Sea level rise is one of the most significant threats to the Sundarbans forest.
The impacts of climate change on the Sundarbans forest are impacting the lives of people in the surrounding areas. The forest is a significant source of livelihood for many people in the region, who rely on it for fishing, agriculture, and other activities. As the forest is damaged by sea level rise and extreme weather events, these people will also be affected by food and water insecurity and the loss of their homes and livelihoods.
The River Gambia's mangroves are crucial to its ecosystem, and benefit the local women who collect oysters. The wetlands are an important carbon sink, storing up to 10 times more carbon than forests. The TRY Oyster Women Association plays a vital role in protecting the wetlands, educating members to preserve the mangroves and harvest sustainably, as well as engaging in reforestation, planting 50,000+ mangrove seedlings - encouraging the women to consider themselves stewards of the mangroves.
A baby Golden-spotted Mudskipper snapped on the edge of a mangrove in Samut Sakorn province, Thailand.
Mudskippers are an amphibious fish and can use their pectoral fins to "walk" on land.
Shrimp aquaculture can have significant impacts on mangrove forests. One of the most significant negative impacts of shrimp aquaculture is the destruction and clearance of mangrove forests to make way for shrimp ponds. Shrimp farming requires the use of chemicals, antibiotics, and fertilizers to enhance production. These substances can leach into surrounding water bodies, leading to water pollution and harming both the mangrove ecosystem and other marine life.