The Results Are In! 2022 Get Into Your Sanctuary Photo Contest

By Rachel Plunkett

December 2022

sea turtles heading out to sea
Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) at sunset on Maui's west coast. Photo: Leighton Lum

“Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take."

Dr. Sylvia Earle

An orange sunset on a beautiful beach on Maui is quite a view. But to be in the right place at the right time while watching that sunset, and have an opportunity to witness and photograph sea turtles heading out to sea? Now that’s a spectacular view not many have had the privilege to experience. Why not capture it and share it?

Natural outdoor spaces provide opportunities for people to get away from the hustle and bustle of their daily routines and connect with themselves, nature, loved ones, and their favorite hobbies—such as photography. The National Marine Sanctuary System turned 50 this year, making this Get Into Your Sanctuary Photo Contest an extra special one.

The results are in and out of the over 700 photos submitted this year, here are the winning photos from each category. You can view the full 2022 Get Into Your Sanctuary Photo Contest results here.

Read on to learn a bit more about the inspiration and stories behind some of the winning photos.

Sanctuary Life

From small and colorful marine shrimp and snails to large sharks and massive humpback whales, wildlife abounds throughout the National Marine Sanctuary System, offering an idyllic setting for viewing wildlife responsibly. The winners of this year’s Sanctuary Life category captured animals in action both above and below the water, including a flamingo tongue snail enjoying a soft coral snack, a roseate spoonbill in flight, and a humpback whale lunge-feeding on anchovies. These photos show the natural colors and behaviors that can be observed at any given time when you slow down to appreciate the interconnectedness of life around you.

Flamingo Tongue Snail on a coral
Flamingo Tongue Snail (Cyphoma gibbosum) in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Daryl Duda
whale breaching surrounded by birds
A humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) feeds on a school of anchovies outside of Moss Landing Harbor in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Doug Croft

While diving on Elbow Reef off Key Largo in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Daryl Duda was delighted to encounter a flamingo tongue snail on the branch of a sea rod. These brightly-colored marine snails like to eat away at the tissue of soft corals and incorporate chemicals from their food into their bodies to use as a defense mechanism against predators. How cool is that? And Duda managed to capture this on camera! Feeling inspired by this moment, Duda said that “seeing the beauty and natural organization of the marine life and under-sea world is inspirational and makes one want to protect it.”

Over on the West Coast, Doug Croft witnessed the glory of a humpback whale as it feeds on anchovies in the company of several cormorants and gulls. These photos side-by-side—showing one animal merely an inch long and the other reaching lengths of up to 60 feet—showcases how much diversity of life there is to be found in these special underwater places.

Sanctuary Recreation

From paddling around sea stacks and sea caves to sailing off into the sunset, there are so many fun recreational activities to enjoy across the National Marine Sanctuary System. Throw in some bonus points if you get a cool photo while you’re out there having fun! Well, that’s exactly what this year’s winners in the Sanctuary Recreation category did, and looking at these photos makes it hard to not want to close your laptop and get outside to play.

a large group of paddleboard around channel islands
Paddlers near Scorpion Anchorage, in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park, explore sea caves and rock gardens. Photo: Dustin Harris

Dustin Harris captured the moment while paddling through a sea cave in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Asked why he values national marine sanctuaries as places to recreate, Harris said, “These spaces are protected for the beauty they hold and the life they sustain, and everyone should have the opportunity to experience that—past, present, and future.”

Sanctuary Views

As Harris pointed out, national marine sanctuaries are known for their beauty, and the Sanctuary Views category of the Get Into Your Sanctuary photo contest invites photographers to share this beauty from their perspective—capturing a moment in time that took their breath away or inspired them in some way.

An orange sunset on a beautiful beach on Maui is quite a beautiful view. But to have an opportunity to witness and photograph sea turtles heading out to sea? Now that’s a spectacular view not many have had the privilege to experience. Leighton Lum had timing on his side when capturing this incredible view.

Not only does timing and being in the right place at the right time make a big difference in a photo, but so does perspective and how you frame a subject. The rocky outcroppings offshore from Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary sure are beautiful to look at out in the distance, but it can be hard to capture in a single photo the essence of the remote sandy beaches with massive pieces of driftwood and the offshore beauty all in one shot. Allison Formica was able to do this by framing her subject through a hole in a large piece of driftwood on the beach, grounding the viewer into her perspective and offering a sense of scale.

view of the ocean through a carved out rock
Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park overlooks the wild and rustic Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest. Photo: Allison Formica

“My husband and I visited Olympic National Park in August 2020 for the first time on a summer road trip,” said Formica. “While Ruby Beach is also known for its bounty of driftwood, one piece in particular caught my eye as it perfectly framed one of the offshore islands in the distance. This unique perspective of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was definitely an unforgettable one!"

Sanctuaries At Home

Visiting a national marine sanctuary isn’t the only way to enjoy its beauty or learn about the habitats, wildlife, and cultural resources that can be found there. The Sanctuaries at Home category allowed photographers an opportunity to creatively showcase some of the different ways that anyone with a computer, cellphone, or canvas and paint can cultivate a connection with these special underwater places from just about anywhere.

After visiting historical artifacts from the USS Monitor at a museum, Mirjam P. Spaar tuned in to the National Marine Sanctuaries Webinar Series for a webinar titled “We Rescued the Monitor: How a NOAA-led Team Recovered USS Monitor's Most Famous Components.” The photo is a great example of the resources and opportunities found on the National Marine Sanctuary System websites. Not only can they enhance any in-person experiences either before or after a visit, but you can even virtually experience a national marine sanctuary from anywhere in the world!

“It was interesting to actually watch how the parts of Monitor were brought up and how they preserve the parts for future generations to see,” said Spaar. “At the museum, I looked at the items in terms of the history of the ship, imagining the glory days of defense. This gave me background for understanding the webinar and allowed me to compare the photos of the items underwater to the ones preserved in the museum.”

A watercolor painting of a leatherback sea turtle in a sketch book
A watercolor painting of a leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) and some research documented in a journal. Photo: Alison Hibbert
a person looking at a monitor, the monitor has a image of the uss monitor turrent being lifted out of the water
A viewer watches the turret of USS Monitor being raised from the ocean for future restoration work during a national marine sanctuaries webinar event. Photo: Mirjam P. Spaar

A Snapshot of History

Whether it be sea turtles, a kelp forest, a sunset view from a sailboat, or your friend snorkeling over a coral reef, the photos submitted this year truly capture the essence of what makes national marine sanctuaries so spectacular. These photos offer a snapshot in time of the National Marine Sanctuary System during its golden anniversary, and we are so grateful to all those who shared your experiences with us this year.

To view the full results from the 2022 Get Into Your Sanctuary Photo Contest and to check out the incredible entries, visit the photo contest results page. The team at NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is thrilled to have received more entries than ever before. To all contestants: thank you and we look forward to seeing your submissions again next year

2022 Photo Contest Winners

Sanctuary Life
Daryl Duda
Jack Louden
Douglas Croft
Sanctuary Recreation
Dustin Harris
John F. Hunter
Jessie Simon
Sanctuary Views
Leighton Lum
Rich Formica
Allison Formica
Sanctuaries at Home
Alison Hibbert
Mirjam P. Spaar
Bruce Sudweeks

Rachel Plunkett is the writer/editor for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries