Get Into Your Sanctuary 2020 Photo Contest Winners Share Their Connections to National Marine Sanctuaries

By Haley Randall

October 2020

The photographers of the 2020 Get Into Your Sanctuary photo contest safely overcame the various challenges brought on by COVID-19, and certainly did not disappoint!

kelp forest from below
Sunbeams penetrate the canopy of a kelp forest in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary as blue rockfish (Sebastes mystinus) congregate beneath in one of Jon Anderson’s two winning images. This photo took first place in the Sanctuary Views category. Photo: Jon Anderson

Dreaming of an adventure? Well, you’re in luck! Photos by this year’s contestants will take you on a journey all across your National Marine Sanctuary System. Photographers wowed us with creative techniques and thoughtful compositions that capture everything from historic shipwrecks to sunsets over misty waters, and delightful portraits of wildlife above and below the surface. Thanks to the work of these incredible photographers, you can enjoy the wonders of national marine sanctuaries from the comfort of your home.

Contest winners were announced on social media in the weeks leading up to the National Marine Sanctuary System’s 48th Anniversary on October 23, 2020. Photographers of all experience levels entered their images in the competition for a chance to be featured in the 2021 Earth is Blue magazine, Get Into Your Sanctuary recreation magazine, and the Earth is Blue social media campaign. Photographers entered their photos in four distinct categories: Sanctuary Life, Sanctuary Views, Sanctuary Recreation, and a new category to accommodate life amidst a pandemic, Sanctuaries at Home. All photographers were also asked to comply with responsible wildlife viewing guidelines in order to participate in the contest. We caught up with some of our winners to learn about their connections to national marine sanctuaries and about how the unique circumstances of this year may have inspired their photography.

First-time winner Jon Anderson took home first place in both the Sanctuary Life and Sanctuary Views categories with his close-up shot of a yellowfin fringehead and a beautifully backlit image of a kelp forest, respectively. Both photos were taken in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. “Visibility varies a lot in Monterey, both above and below the water, but days like this where the sun is out and water is clear are about as breathtaking as anywhere on Earth that I have experienced,” Anderson said, referencing his winning Sanctuary Views photo. “The density, diversity, and vibrancy of life throughout the reefs in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is what keeps me diving in these cold and challenging waters.”

small fish pops head out of corals
A yellowfin fringehead (Neoclinus stephensae) peeks out from behind a red-rust bryozoan (Watersipora subtorquata) in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in this year’s winning Sanctuary Life photo. Photo: Jon Anderson

Surfers often have a strong connection with the marine environment, and many are passionate about protecting the ocean and passing the torch to the next generation. This tradition was captured well by Bruce Sudweeks, who won the Sanctuary Recreation category with a photo of his granddaughter riding the waves. Sudweeks’ impressive photography skills also earned him first place in 2019’s Sanctuary Life category, and he takes pride in the fact that his granddaughter “is being taught to enjoy and respect the ocean” just as he does.

Kid surfing
Bruce Sudweeks’ granddaughter catches a wave in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in the winning Sanctuary Recreation photo. Photo: Bruce Sudweeks

Jill Brown became the first-ever winner of the Sanctuaries at Home category with her delightful photo of sidewalk chalk art inspired by the beauty of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

chalk art of turtle and fish
Inspired by Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, a sea turtle and tropical fishes make a big splash as delightful works of sidewalk art in the winner of this year’s brand-new Sanctuaries at Home category. Photo: Jill Brown

Not only has this year’s photo contest brought the national marine sanctuaries to us all while we remain safe in our homes, but it has also been a great excuse for the photographers to get outdoors for some much-needed (and socially distant) time in nature! Shortly after the shelter-in-place restrictions were announced, Christina Parsons used the photo contest as an excuse to enjoy a seaside stroll, saying “walking the beaches of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is my favorite pastime,” and adding that the beach has provided her with some respite throughout the pandemic.

Douglas Croft, a two-time previous contest winner (2018 and 2019), won second place in this year’s Sanctuary Life category with his photo of a pod of Risso’s dolphins. “Usually quite business-like and methodical, this group of Risso’s dolphins was very playful and energetic while we were on our post-quarantine shakedown cruise in Monterey Bay,” Croft said of the subjects of his winning photo. “It seemed like they had missed us. We had certainly missed them!”

dolphins breaching
A pod of Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus) surge by in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in the second place winner of the Sanctuary Life category. This photo was taken 100 yards away from wildlife with a Nikon D500 and Tamron 18-400. Photo: Douglas Croft

Tiffany Duong, a past Get Into Your Sanctuary photo contest winner, used her time in quarantine as an opportunity to get in touch with her artistic side: “When the pandemic forced us out of the water, we still discovered the wonder of our undersea world with paint nights featuring some of our favorite reef creatures from Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary,” she said. Duong won second place in the Sanctuaries at Home category by capturing the creative process behind some reef-inspired artwork, which was both fun and conservation-minded. “Here, funds from our paintings even supported critical reef restoration efforts,” Duong added.

people smiling on ground with paintings
Bringing Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary indoors during the pandemic by painting spotted eagle rays (Aetobatus narinari). This photo took second place in the Sanctuaries at Home category. Photo: Tiffany Duong.

In the Great Lakes region, photographers showcased the rich maritime history that places like Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protect. Kate Berg entered photos that she took during a powerful experience diving among the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay. “This was my first up-close and personal experience with Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and I was totally in awe with these incredibly beautiful and intact pieces of history at 80 feet deep,” Berg said of her photos. “This was especially true when I dove the wreck of the Grecian, because it was almost exactly on the 114th anniversary of its sinking.”

The stories behind many of the photo submissions also remind us that no matter where we call home, water is a unifying force. Though Cori Watson of Montana does not live near a national marine sanctuary, this year’s photo contest encouraged her and others to explore their own backyards and enjoy the beauty of the waters around them.

Watson was inspired to enter a photo of her boat on Canyon Ferry Lake in the Sanctuaries at Home category. She said that the image “projects the simplicity of how awesome this lake can be in many different ways. The Montana summer sun sets gracefully on this beautiful body of water, allowing us to be grateful that we can share this lake with all species of living things." This was a sentiment that was shared by many of this year’s photographers -- a poignant reminder that although we may be thousands of miles apart, water is something that connects us all.

divers on wreck
Divers come face-to-face with the wreck of the Grecian in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Kate Berg

If you’re looking for more fantastic photography from the National Marine Sanctuary System, take a look at the winning photographs and even browse through all contest entries in each category, such as Sanctuary Views. Keep an eye out for the first, second, and third place winners on our social media channels, and later in the 2021 issue of Earth is Blue magazine. You can also see some of last year’s winning photographs in the newest issue of Earth is Blue magazine.

Be sure to also check out the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s first-ever “Discover Wonder People’s Choice Contest”! This brand new contest allows the public to choose their favorite photo from this year’s four first-place winners. You can participate on the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages from October 26 to 29.

sunset over rocky shore
The sun sets on another beautiful day in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in the second place Sanctuary Views photo. Photo: Steve Zmak

Congratulations to all of our winners, and thanks to all the talented photographers who participated in this year’s Get Into Your Sanctuary photo contest. The competition will run again next year from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, so stay tuned, get your cameras ready, and get out into your sanctuary!

2020 Photo Contest Winners

Sanctuary Life
Jon Anderson
Douglas Croft
Stan Schone
Sanctuary Recreation
Bruce Sudweeks
Christina Ford
Bruce Sudweeks
Sanctuary Views
Jon Anderson
Steve Zmak
Dustin Harris
Sanctuaries at Home
Jill Brown
Tiffany Duong
Kristine Ellefson

Haley Randall is a Recreation and Tourism intern for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.