Get Into Your Sanctuary 2021 Photo Contest Winners Share Their Connections to National Marine Sanctuaries

By Hannah Mone

October 2021

Atlantic spadefish swimming around a barrel sponge
Atlantic spadefish (Chaetodipterus faber) hover near a large sponge at Molasses Reef within Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo. Photo: Daryl Duda

As the waves roll into shore at Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, they gently crash and spread across the soft sand, engulfing the feet of a photographer readying for his opportunity…”Snap!” Frozen in his viewfinder is the image of two hikers on the long trek toward Shi Shi Beach—favored by visitors for the views of rugged sea stacks protruding from the pristine sandy landscape. “The views of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary are so grand and beautiful that it feels like I’ve been transported to a movie set or something. Such surreal beauty is difficult to capture on camera, but I love having a reminder of my time there,” says photographer Mark Losavio.

This upcoming year is the 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System, marking 50 years of America’s ocean parks. To celebrate, photographers of all experience levels from around the globe entered their photos to be featured in the 2022 Earth is Blue magazine, Get Into Your Sanctuary recreation magazine, and the Earth is Blue social media campaign. Photographers entered their photos into four categories: Sanctuary Life, Sanctuary Views, Sanctuary Recreation, and Sanctuaries at Home. Each photographer was asked to comply with responsible wildlife viewing guidelines.

Two people on the beach, forest to the left, and misty ocean to the right
Hikers make the long trek to Shi Shi Beach to appreciate the breathtaking views of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Mark Losavio/ third place winner for Sanctuary Recreation

Many photographers were inspired to get out and explore their national marine sanctuaries not just for the adventure but also to discover all that nature has to offer. Michael Schilling, a diver from Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, exclaims, “National marine sanctuaries are places of discovery and places to explore and find something new to me, like this flamingo tongue snail. I had never seen one before and after taking this photo, I just had to research everything about them on the way back home.”

Schilling also came across a great blue heron at sunset while at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, stating “While I often think of our national marine sanctuaries as special underwater places, the heron reminds us that our sanctuaries are important habitats for species both on land and under the water.” Visitors can’t help but be awed by the diversity of wildlife that inhabit these treasured marine ecosystems, both above and underwater.

Flamingo tongue snail on a rock
Flamingo Tongue Snail (Cyphoma gibbosum) in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Michael Schilling
Sunset over the water, rocks up front with a heron perched on top in silhouette
A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) observes the setting sun over Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Michael Schilling/ second place winner for Sanctuary Views

At home, Makerita Gebauer captures family time gathered around a canvas, using an array of colorful paints to create a sea turtle. Gebauer depicts the value of “Educating young minds about the beauty of nature and using art to showcase the importance of the ocean and its habitats for a future generation.” Near National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, Gebauer also captured the joy of a child fishing underneath a palm tree by the turquoise sea. Fishing allows many of us to find solace in nature as our minds drift while waiting in anticipation for a tug at the line. It also teaches people of all ages “the importance of fishing responsibly and taking care of our environment so that it will take care of us,” she adds.

Learning about marine life and making connections to national marine sanctuaries, both out in nature and in the comfort of your own home, can create compassion to care for these places and the wildlife they support.

Child painting a turtle at home
Painting and learning about marine life (turtles, corals, etc.) while at home. Photo: Makerita Gebauer/ first place winner for Sanctuaries at Home
Person sitting on the rocks and fishing
Learning to fish responsibly near National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. Photo: Makerita Gebauer/ second place winner for Sanctuary Recreation

To many, experiencing national marine sanctuaries first hand left photographers with a sense of hope for the future. During Bill Pigott’s scuba diving excursion at Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, he stated “Successful conservation efforts, such as those that led to the increasing green sea turtle population in Hawaii, make beautiful encounters such as this possible. It is an honor to share this success story with those not able to see it in person.”

Yvonne Wright also finds optimism in the western snowy plover populations while documenting banded individuals, stating “As a volunteer helping to monitor western snowy plovers in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, I have learned a lot about these amazing little shorebirds and the challenges they face. Their survival and recovery depends on protecting and sharing our shores that they make their homes on.” Sanctuary Life third place winner Kimberly Jeffries adds to this optimism, stating that national marine sanctuaries are “a special place where rare species are protected and can be viewed in their natural habitat,” lending hope to their survival.

Green sea turtle swimming over some coral
Taken in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, this photo shows a green sea turtle, (Chelonia mydas) looking upward towards the surface. Photo: Bill Pigott
Snowy plover eyeing the camera
Western snowy plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus) at Seaside State Beach in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Yvonne Wright/ first place winner for Sanctuary Life

Time out in our national marine sanctuaries also provides a respite from our busy lives and a time to relax out in nature. Contestant Michael Schilling reflects, “For me, being underneath the waves provides a sense of calm, a sense of simplicity. My local national marine sanctuary offers solitude for my otherwise fast-paced life.” By being in nature surrounded by picturesque waters, whether scuba diving or above the water listening to the waves crashing on the shore, one can feel a sense of comfort and belonging.

Still others find adventure and create once in a lifetime experiences while exploring and recreating out in our national marine sanctuaries. Anna Mikkelsen, another contestant, captured a group enjoying the water, stating, “These places provide sanctuary for marine life as well as people. They provide space to reconnect with the ocean, have fun, and explore serene and undisturbed nature.”

three people wait on the rocks, one dives into the water
Making a splash at Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Anna Baker Mikkelsen

We each have our own stories and connections to the waterways around us. Whether national marine sanctuaries bring you a sense of peace, spark creativity, provide a place to get out and explore nature, or bring hope for the future of our planet—as the amazing photographers from this year’s photo contest highlighted!

Photos are able to capture moments in time that inspire awe, excite curiosity, or simply spark happiness. The added bonus is they allow us not only to hold on to such memories, but also to share them with others. These moments are exactly what the outstanding photographers of this year’s Get Into Your Sanctuary photo contest have given us the opportunity to experience.

If you haven’t had enough of these incredible photos and are searching for more, take a look at this year’s winning photographs, and even view all photos entered in each category. Also a heads up that the first, second, and third place winners will be announced on our social media channels, and in future issues of the Earth is Blue magazine.

Congratulations to all the outstanding photographers who entered into our 2021 Get Into Your Sanctuary photo contest. The contest will run again next year from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, so be sure to get out and share your photos and connections to your national marine sanctuaries!

Rock cliffs emerging from the water, one small arch is visible. View of the ocean in the foreground and sky in the background.
Arch Rock South East Farallon at Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: James Moskito/ first place winner for Sanctuary Views

2021 Photo Contest Winners

Sanctuary Life
Yvonne Wright
Patrick Malloy
Kimberly Jeffries
Sanctuary Recreation
Anna Baker Mikkelsen
Makerita Gebauer
Mark Losavio
Sanctuary Views
James Moskito
Michael Schilling
Douglas Croft
Sanctuaries at Home
Makerita Gebauer
Jill Brown
Zalak Ghanshyambhai Sabapara

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