Photography award winners show the fragility and beauty of mangrove forests

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Victor Hugo Luja Molina has been named overall winner of this year’s Mangrove Photography Awards, for his image of a female jaguar in an intimate moment with her cub in a mangrove forest in Mexico.

image copyrightVictor Hugo Luja Molina
Run by the Mangrove Action Project, the competition, now in its sixth year, aims to show the relationships between wildlife, coastal communities, and mangrove forests, as well as the fragility of these unique ecosystems, both above and below the waterline.

Luja Molina’s winning image, Once Again Being a Mother, was selected from more than 1,000 entries from nearly 70 countries.

“I love this picture because it shows the mangrove roots, the mangrove forest in detail and at night,” says Luja Molina.

“This is one of the very few photos that exist of jaguars in mangrove ecosystems.

“After two years of failed attempts with the camera trap – blurry images, partial shots and lost cameras – Janis, a female resident mangrove jaguar, finally gave us a great moment with one of her cubs.

“The mangrove ecosystem in western Mexico is facing huge conservation problems, with so much land-use change, including illegal shrimp farms.”

Mangroves are an important protection against climate change, with one acre (4,000 sq m) of mangrove forest absorbing nearly the same amount of carbon dioxide as an acre of Amazon rainforest.

The forests also protect coastlines from eroding as intense storms grow more frequent.

Judge Steve Winter says: “Mangroves are such a vitally important part of the ecosystem, they are the nursery for many aquatic species.

“The health of these ecosystems are vital to human and animal health.”

Here is a selection of winning images from five competition categories, with descriptions by the photographers.

Winner of Mangroves & Wildlife: Welcome Grin, by Jenny Stock, Cuba

image copyrightJenny Stock

A beautiful and powerful animal, an American crocodile, seen in his home, the mangroves of Jardines de la Reina, Cuba.

This was my first in-water encounter with a crocodile.

And it was completely exhilarating.

Being up close with such a wild and powerful animal would make your heart race.

Runner-up of Mangroves & Wildlife: Lemon Pups, by Anita Kainrath Anita Kainrath, Bahamas

image copyrightAnita Kainrath

Juvenile lemon sharks in Bimini, Bahamas, using mangrove-fringed lagoons and creeks as nurseries.

Winner of Mangroves & Communities: Coastal Community, by Morgan Bennett-Smith, Papua New Guinea

image copyrightMorgan Bennett-Smith

Local boys gather in front of a small mangrove-associated outcropping along the coast of Papua New Guinea.

Coastal ecosystems here rely on a community-based system of conservation and protection.

The local people value their ecosystems and protect them.

Runner-up of Mangroves & Communities: Environmental Balance in the Bijagos, by Ricci Shryock, Guinea Bissau

image copyrightRicci Shryock

A portrait of Ndira and Teresa, of the Bijagos community, in Guinea-Bissau, west Africa, who are part of a women’s group who wade through water among the mangroves during low tide to look for oysters.

The oysters are then sold or sometimes used in traditional ceremonies.

Winner of Mangroves & Landscapes: The Dancing Mangroves, by Harry Pieters, Indonesia

image copyrightHarry Pieters

A unique mangrove sunset scene along Walakiri Beach, in East Sumba, Indonesia, where the trees sway across a stretch of white sand.

Runner-up of Mangroves & Landscapes: Mangroves from the Air, by Chris Scarffe, Madagascar

image copyrightChris Scarffe

The mangroves and meandering rivers of north-west Madagascar, from the air, in early morning light, with the dramatic volcanic island of Nosy Komba in the background.

Winner of Mangroves & Threats: Mangrove & Bulldozer, by Matthew Potenski, Bahamas

image copyrightMatthew D Potenski

I took this split shot of a sand-spit being built across a shallow lagoon.

By the next day, the mangrove shoot pictured was buried under piles of sand fill.

This development had no building permits and is indicative of how projects can move forward and do damage without any legal authority.

This image always seems to elicit a strong emotional reaction in people.

Runner-up of Mangroves & Threats: The Real ‘Man Vs Wild’ aka ‘Live and Let Live’, by Vidyasagar Hariharan, India

image copyrightVidyasagar Hariharan

The remaining mangroves in Mumbai are under threat.

Here, flamingos are seen feeding in a wetland, with the reflection of buildings – a grim testimony of the struggle and loss of habitat these birds are facing.

Winner of Mangroves & Conservation: Sea of Pink, by Pratik Chorge, India

image copyrightPratik Chorge

With reduced human activity this year, a record number of flamingos made the journey across to Mumbai, India.

Talawe Wetlands was given an extra pink spectacle, after microscopic algae and bacteria mixed with the rising humidity and turned parts of the water pink.

Runner-up of Mangroves & Conservation: Rangers and Fishermen on Pate Island, by Roshni Lodhia, Kenya

image copyrightRoshni Lodhia

Rangers on Pate Island, Kenya, are tasked to patrol the mangrove areas for illegal mangrove logging.

Highly Commended: The Phantom of the Mangroves, by Soham Bhattacharyya, India

image copyrightSoham Bhattacharyya

The tiger is the biggest mystery of mangroves.

Local villagers consider the tigers as “God” because they protect the jungle from any human threat.

Highly Commended: Destroyed Habitat, by Shane Gross, US

image copyrightShane Gross

In 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria, just two weeks apart.

Large swaths of mangroves near Cabo Rojo were killed and have not recovered three years later.

Highly Commended: Gen M for Mangrove, by Victor Fidelis Sentosa, Indonesia

image copyrightVictor Fidelis Sentosa

Youth nowadays need to be more aware of the mangrove ecosystem and its function.

Campaigns and socialisation must also come with actions for a brighter future.

Highly Commended: Left or right, towards what should we progress?, by Srikanth Mannepuri, India

image copyrightSrikanth Mannepuri

Conversion of mangrove forests into commercial aquaculture ponds is the biggest threat to mangroves.

Highly Commended: Sona and Oysters in the Mangroves, by Ricci Shryock, Guinea-Bissau

image copyrightRicci Shryock

Sona Sedja, 29, washes the oysters she has collected before taking them to market.

Sedja uses the income to support herself and her two children.

Highly Commended: Sponges in the Mangrove, by Alvaro Herrero Lopez-Beltran, Indonesia

image copyrightAlvaro Herrero Lopez-Beltran

Highly Commended: Mangrove Maze, by Janos Leo G Andanar, Philippines

image copyrightJanos Leo G. Andanar

A tourist boat in the middle of the mangrove in Siargao Island, Philippines.

Tourists are not just enjoying surfing the waves of the island but also the vast mangrove forest with clear waters for them to explore.

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