Roots of life: The 2023 Mangrove Photography Award winners
Mangroves may not be the first thing you picture when you think 'forest', but they're both incredible, unique ecosystems and serve as a kind of structural and water-quality coastguard. And while mangrove forests make up about 0.1% of the planet's surface, they can store up to 10 times more carbon than terrestrial forests.
Found along the coastlines of 123 countries, their enviable position with water views has made them susceptible to clearing for development, However, the rate of loss is stalling, and because they can grow fast and are environmentally resilient, the world has actually seen nearly 1,000 acres (405 ha) of mangrove forests grow in areas they did not exist in 2000.
Celebrating the unique, often otherworldly nature of this aquatic forest and the life-support it provides for a diverse range of species, the winners of the ninth annual Mangrove Photography Awards beautifully capture the wonder of these pneumatophore-peppered landscapes. (Mangroves, unlike terrestrial forest trees, do not have traditional roots, but root-like structures that aid absorption of nutrients and oxygen; while they have a few different kinds of structures, the most comical ones are the famous pneumatophores that spread out from the tree and stick out of the ground like woody snorkels.)
As for the awards, there were winners across six categories, and we've picked out some of the best that highlight the animal life that calls these forests home. For more, check out our gallery.
The overall winner for a striking snap of a young Royal Bengal tigress (see pic above) was Soham Bhattacharyya, who captured the endangered big cat candidly in the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve in India. Titled "The Finest 'Flower' of the Mangroves," it is a stunning portrait of the only tiger adapted to live in a mangrove forest.
Another portrait of a rather different animal earned Katanyou Wuttichaitanakorn of Thailand the Young Mangrove Photographer of the Year award.
At just 17, Wuttichaitanakorn has already made a name for himself as a world-class nature photographer.
This young gold-spotted mudskipper (Periophthalmus chrysospilos) was wonderfully captured in Samut Sakorn province in Thailand. This winning photo comes just a year after the teenager took out his age category in the 2022 Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards, for his artistic capture of a Bryde's whale.
This dazzling aerial shot shows the many sides to these landscapes, as a fishing boat slowly navigates through its dense network of wintery branches in the Ru Cha Mangrove Forest in Vietnam. Photographer Phan Thi Khanh's image titled "In the Forest" earned the runner-up prize in the People & Mangroves category.
"Ru Cha is a mangrove forest that is considered the green lung of Tam Giang lagoon," he explained, adding that the bare winter branches are reminiscent of a giant spider web.
Mangrove forests have as much happening under the water as above it, as Chien Lee captures in "Hiding in Plain Sight," taken deep in the Utría National Natural Park, Colombia. This funny character is a common potoo (Nyctibius griseus), doing its best to pretend it's part of the furniture in order to guard the nest. As nocturnal animals, it's are to see these birds in daylight.
"As I didn't want to risk disturbing the potoo into flight, I photographed it with a long telephoto lens some distance away," Lee said. "It was only after looking through the lens that I realized there was actually a single egg."
The snap below took out the Mangroves & Wildlife category.
There's no denying that us humans have had a significant impact on mangrove forests, much like everywhere else we've turned up. Emanuele Biggi's "The Theatre of Plastic," which captures a lone hermit crab who has made a home out of a plastic deodorant can top, is a stark reminder of how many species have had to adapt, if they can, or die.
Taken close to the resort island Pom Pom in Sabah, Malaysia, it's a haunting contrast to the aqua waters and beach views usually associated with the region. And it won the photographer the top prize in the Mangroves & Threats category.
"Pom Pom island is a violated paradise," said Biggi, who added that the area is burdened by tons of plastic flowing in from nearby Borean shores. "When I found this poor hermit crab ... I knew I [had] found my sad ambassador for this terrible human problem."
With a title that spells out exactly what is happening here, "Mating Nurse Sharks" is an action-snap taken by Mark Ian Cook from a helicopter above the aptly named Shark Point in the Everglades National Park, Florida. He snapped this photo while actually conducting a scientific study on waterbirds in the region.
"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," he said.
The various kinds of above-ground roots of the mangroves here form a sort of shark 'lovers' lane', with the sheltered and calm waters providing a haven for the animals to go about their business.
Source: Mangrove Photography Awards