The best 100 are on exhibition at the Natural History Museum until 23 March, and next year the display will go on a UK and international tour.
This is the 49th year of the competition, which attracts entries from both professional and amateur photographers. A panel of professionals judges the images, which are selected for their creativity, artistry and technical complexity.
As usual, underwater images featured among the final choice.

WINNER: UNDERWATER WORLDS

Feast of the Ancient Mariner by Brian Skerry, USA

It looks like some kind of inflatable pool toy, but this turtle is munching on a pyrosome, a free-floating colony of hundreds of thousands of tiny tunicates wrapped in a gelatinous “tunic”.
This alone is surprising, as leatherbacks tend to dine on jellyfish, but what is more surprising is seeing a leatherback feeding at all. “Usually, you only see them swimming away,” says Skerry. He spotted this nearly-2m-long individual near the surface in calm water off the island of Pico in the Azores, some distance from where he was snorkelling.
As he finned closer, he expected the turtle to swim off into the blue, but it was so engrossed in its meal that he had time to compose a picture.
“The light was tricky,” he says. “I wanted to use ambient light, but because of the position of the sun, it was a delicate dance of slow and gentle movements, trying to position myself to avoid shadows without disturbing the turtle.”
Seeing such an elusive creature doing something so rarely witnessed was, he says, “magical”. Skerry sees this picture as a rare portrait of an incredible survivor – it has a lineage that predates the dinosaurs – now facing a battery of threats, including the warming of the seas as well as fishing, egg-harvesting and coastal development of its nesting areas.

Taken with Nikon D3s + 17-35mm lens at 35mm; 1/250 sec at f13; ISO 1600; Subal housing.

RUNNER-UP: UNDERWATER WORLDS

Lionfish Bait by Alex Tattersall, UK

The Thistlegorm wreck in the Red Sea attracts a host of fish. In one of the huge holds, Tattersall discovered more than 20 common lionfish, attracted by the supply of prey.
He returned a number of times to capture as much of the action as possible. Here a lionfish is attacking silversides and cardinalfish swirling in a huge baitball.
“The synchrony was mesmerising, but the scene was a real challenge to photograph,” says Tattersall. “I had to make sure I didn’t overexpose the shiny, silver scales or create ‘noise’ by highlighting particles in the water, while all the time being aware of the site’s strong currents.”

Taken with Nikon D7000 + Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens + 1.4x teleconverter; 1/100 sec at f11; ISO 320; two INON z-240 strobes; Nauticam housing; Zen 100mm mini-dome.


WINNER: BEHAVIOUR: COLD-BLOODED ANIMALS

Dive Buddy by Luis Javier Sandoval, Mexico

The beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula near Cancun are traditional nesting sites for endangered green turtles. But as Cancun has grown as a holiday and dive resort, development has reduced the area available to turtles.
Today, however, many nest sites are protected, there are turtle hatcheries to help numbers increase, and publicity to help local people and resort-owners value the natural riches of the region. Sandoval earns enough from tourism photography to allow him time to document his beloved wildlife.
“The turtles are so used to seeing people in the water that they think we’re just part of the environment,” he says, so he has been able to get to know individuals by the markings on their faces.
“This metre-long female, grazing on seagrass, took no notice of me, apart from glancing up briefly,” says Sandoval. Recently, he has noticed what he suspects may be a new threat – at certain times of the year, yellowish algae covers some of the seagrass.
The growth could be the result of sewage from the resort, which has already affected the coral. The turtles avoid eating it.

Taken with Nikon D7000 + 10-17mm Tokina fisheye lens at 17mm; 1/125 sec at f10; ISO 100; Sea & Sea YS-120 DUO strobes; Aquatica housing + TLC Arm Set


COMMENDED: THE WORLD IN OUR HANDS AWARD

Hook, Line & Sinking by Justin Gilligan, Australia

Grey nurse sharks are protected in Australian waters, yet they continue to be killed through recreational and commercial fishing. In the 1950s and 1960s, vast numbers were slaughtered because of the misconception that they were man-eaters, and their placid nature made them easy targets.
However, Seal Rocks off New South Wales remains a grey nurse shark hotspot. It’s remote and tricky to get to, and Gilligan had tried unsuccessfully to photograph there on several occasions. But on this day, the visibility was perfect.
“The day was amazing, and I was so excited to be down there,” he says – until this shark swam into view, a hook in its jaw. It was his shot of the day, highlighting the plight of sharks the world over.

Taken with Nikon D300 + 10.5mm f2.8 lens; 1/160 sec at f5; ISO 400; Ikelite housing; two DS160 strobes..

COMMENDED: THE WORLD IN OUR HANDS AWARD

The Pull of a Dugong by Douglas Seifert, USA

When a dugong is feeding in the bay of Marsa Alam, Egypt, snorkellers flock to see it. Seifert was watching as more and more hassled it until it fled.
Without dugongs the world would be a poorer place, but without control of the numbers and behaviour of snorkellers and divers, they only add to the pressure faced by the dugongs, just seven of which are known to live along the 60-mile coastline.
Urbanisation of the coast is destroying the seagrass beds on which the dugongs depend. Controls on development and recognition of the value of the dugongs to tourism are urgently needed.

Taken with Nikon D800 + 15mm fisheye f2.8 lens; 1/320 sec at f16; ISO 640; Nauticam housing; two INON z-220 strobes.

COMMENDED: UNDERWATER WORLDS

The Seagrass Sweeper by Douglas Seifert, USA

This dugong was in a sheltered, shallow bay on the Egyptian coast eating seagrass and moving itself along on its flippers rather than its whale-like tail, which it uses for swimming. Every few minutes, after two metres or so of grazing, it would swim to the surface, open its nostrils and take several deep breaths.
“I approached him very slowly to gain his trust,’ says Seifert, who took the portrait by lying flat on the seabed. What struck him was the power of the muscular snout. It was obvious why the local dive operators had christened this dugong Dyson – as it cropped the seagrass, it looked as if it was sucking it up with industrial power.

Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark II + 16-35mm f2.8 lens; 1/200 sec at f11; ISO 640; Seacam housing; two INON z-220 strobes.

COMMENDED: UNDERWATER WORLDS

The Encirclement by Thomas Haider, Austria

Haider knew he was witnessing something unusual when he saw an enormous shoal encircling a rock off West Papua, Indonesia.
As he approached, it separated like a curtain and encircled him in a fountain formation. This revealed a group of longfin batfish close to the rock, and below them fusiliers and jack.
Fish shoal to form one alert whole, and predators would normally be on the outside, but here the larger fish – and Haider – were surrounded. “It was a tricky scene to encompass in one image,” he says, but he succeeded.

Taken with Nikon D300 + Tokina 10-17mm f3.5-4.5 lens at 10mm; 1/60 sec at f8; Subal housing + dome port; 2x Subtronic Nova strobes.