The Nature Conservancy organisation has just announced the winners of its 2019 Photo Contest, and the selected shots are a collection of truly stunning images that remind us of how breathtaking our planet can be.

A picture of a group of people swimming in the sea while grey storm clouds gather above their heads
This picture of a group of swimmers watching as a storm amasses over the Atlantic Ocean was taken in the popular location of Varadero in Cuba.  It's part of the honourable mentions of the annual the Nature Conservancy contest, announced recently together with the contest winners © Giovani Cordioli / TNC Photo Contest 2019

A global organisation dedicated to preserving lands and waters, each year the Nature Conservancy organises a photo contest open to all applicants from around the world to pick the best shots in five categories - Cities and Nature, Landscape, People and Nature, Water and Wildlife, as well as the Grand Prize overall winner.

A picture of San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge emerging from the fog at sunset
This picture of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge won the first place in the Cities and Nature category © Jay Huang / TNC Photo Contest 2019

“The natural world inspires a sense of wonder in all of us,” said the chief marketing officer of the Nature Conservancy, Richard Loomis. “These photographs are a powerful reminder of the importance of sharing our vision of nature”. More than 120,000 entries arrived this year from 152 countries around the globe, and they were all carefully examined in the Nature Conservancy’s headquarters.

An underwater picture of a whale shark swimming, while rays of light illuminate the scene
“The light rays penetrating the water can only be achieved when visibility is at its best and there is no wind,” explained Kydd © Alex Kydd / TNC Photo Contest 2019

The Grand Prize went to Tyler Schiffman for a beautiful underwater shot of a sea lion taken in California’s Monterey Bay. “I had framed this shot waiting for a sea lion to swim bay,” said Schiffman. “I took three photos and as rare as it was the moment left in a blink of an eye”.

A shot of a sea lion underwater, its silhouette framed by the sunlight
"Light was exploding from the canopy above," says the photographer about the moment this picture was taken © Tyler Schiffman / TNC Photo Contest 2019

For each of the five categories, the Nature Conservancy announced the winners of the first, second and third prize as well as some honourable mentions. American Jay Huang won first place in the Cities and Nature category for his shot of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge surrounded by fog, while Austrian Colin Ronald shot his winning Landscape picture high on the Slovenian Alps.

A picture of a lone skier speeding down the slope of a Slovenian alpine peak
"On the last day of a five-day ski tour in Slovenia, we finally found ourselves above the clouds, able to see something other than fog," says the photographer describing the process behind this photo © Colin Ronald / TNC Photo Contest 2019

The first place in the People category went to Le Van Vinh, who took a photo of a fisherman surrounded by his net in the Phu Yen province of Vietnam. Australian Alex Kydd brought home first place in the Water category with a stunning shot of a whale shark swimming in the depths of Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia. Finally, Mexican Fernando O’Farrill won first place in the Wildlife category for his overhead shot of a polar bear swimming in the waters around the Svalbard Islands.

A picture of a polar bear swimming taken from a bird's eye view
With this shot, Mexican photographer Fernando O'Farrill won the first place in the Wildlife category © Fernando O'Farrill / TNC Photo Contest 2019

If you’d like to see a complete gallery of the winning images, you can do so on the Nature Conservancy’s official website here.

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