French underwater photographer Greg Lecoeur really captured the money shot when he was in South Africa in June 2015. Last month, his “Sardine Run” already won gold in the 2016 Siena International Photo Awards, and now he’s also been selected, from thousands of entries, as the grand-prize winner of the 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year contest.

“During the sardine migration along the Wild Coast of South Africa, millions of sardines are preyed upon by marine predators such as dolphins, marine birds, sharks, whales, penguins, sailfishes and sea lions. The hunt begins with common dolphins that have developed special hunting techniques to create and drive bait balls to the surface. In recent years, probably due to over fishing and climate change, the annual sardine run has become more and more unpredictable.”
– Greg Lecoeur

Lecoeur eventually earned a 10-day trip for two to the Galápagos with his picture, but he wasn’t the only one who won. Within four categories, a first, second and third best picture respectively won $2,500, $750 (and a signed National Geographic book) and $500. Varun Aditya of Tamil Nadu (India) placed first in the Animal Portraits category for a photo of a snake, Vadim Balakin of Sverdlovsk (Russia) placed first in the Environmental Issues category for a photo of polar bear remains in Norway, and Jacob Kapetein of Gerland (Netherlands) placed first in the Landscape category for a photo of a small beech tree in a river. Lecoeur’s photo won the Action category.

Animal Portraits, 1st place: “Dragging you deep into the woods!”

© Varun Aditya / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

I shot this at Amboli, Maharashtra, India, on July 24, 2016, during a morning stroll into the blissful rain forest. Ceaseless drizzles dampened the woods for 10 hours a day; the serene gloom kept me guessing if it was night or day. The heavy fog, chilling breeze, and perennial silence could calm roaring sprits. And there I saw this beauty. I wondered if I needed more reasons to capture the habitat, for I was blessed to see this at the place I was at. I immediately switched from the macro to the wide-angle lens and composed this frame.

Environmental Issues, 1st place: “Life and Death”

© Vadim Balakin / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

These polar bear remains have been discovered at one of the islands of northern Svalbard, Norway. We do not know whether the bear died from starving or aging, but more likely if we see the good teeth status, it was from starving. They say nowadays that such remains are found very often, as global warming and the ice situation influence the polar bear population.

Landscape, 1st place: “Struggle of Life”

© Jacob Kaptein / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Last year I participated in the Marius van der Sandt Beurs. This scholarship stimulates photography by young photographers. For a whole year I was guided by some excellent nature photographers to realize a project I wanted to accomplish. I chose a natural stream restoration project of a nature organization in the Netherlands. The first time I entered this patch of forest, I immediately saw this little beech. I came back several times to photograph it. One evening, just after sunset, all the light conditions were perfect. I stood in the cold water for more than an hour making many photos while I experimented with different shutter speeds.

Landscape, other laureates

2nd place
The first cold days of winter have frozen the surface of a pond. The first snowfall has revealed its delicate beauty. A long shutter speed enhances the movement of the clouds around Mt. Cimon de la Pala, Paneveggio-Pale San Martino Natural Park, Italy
© Alessandro Gruzza / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

3rd place
A colossal Cumulonimbus flashes over the Pacific Ocean as we circle around it at 37000 feet en route to South America
© Santiago Borja / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Honorable mention
This GreenMeteor was captured while taking a time-lapse to document the urbanization around the Skyislands in India. The camera was set at 15s exposure for 999 shots and this came into one of those shots. Green Meteor’s greenish color come from a combination of the heating of oxygen around the meteor and the mix of minerals ignited as the rock enters Earth’s atmosphere. I think for those 15 seconds, I was the luckiest photographer on the planet to have capture this phenomenon.
© Santiago Borja / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Action, other laureates

2nd place
An EF2 tornado bears down on a home in Wray, Colorado- May 7, 2016. As soon as we were safe, as the tornado roared off into the distance through a field before roping out, we scrambled up the hill to check on the residents.Thankfully, everyone was alright, and we were grateful for that. As I was checking in with a young woman coming out of the basement, we became very aware of a strong new circulation – right above our heads. We needed to run for cover, and did so before saying a proper goodbye.
© Tori O’Shea / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

3rd place
A remarkable conservation success story, the graceful Great Egret was saved from the brink of disappearance in Hungary, when in 1921 there were only 31 mating pairs remaining. Less than a century later, international conservation efforts have triumphed. We can now count over 3,000 mating pairs in Hungary alone.
© Zsolt Kudich / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Honorable mention
Green turtles devour the soft tentacles of a jellyfish which are a common food source for many turtles.
© Scott Portelli / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Animal Portraits, other laureates

2nd place
Fry of a Peacock Bass hover around their mom for protection against predators. Peacock Bass, part of the Cichlid family, exercise excellent parental car and will protect their young against any threat that approaches them. This tropical species from South America was intentionally introduced in South Florida during the 1980s to control the African Tilapia, another invasive species.
© Michael O’Neill / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

3rd place (a)
‘Friendship knows no color, nationality, race and social level,? friendship knows no age and gender,? friendship knows no distance’ -quoted by Luis A Ribeiro Branco-. This way must be. And this images perfectly could represent that message. Two Empusa Pennata which seem to play a game on the thin plant. Wildlife image and absolutely uncommon to see a couple of this specie together.
© Jose Pesquero Gomez / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

3rd place (b)
This image was taken last summer on Skomer Island, Wales. It is well known for its wildlife, the puffin colony is one of the largest in U.K.The photo shows a detail or study of an Atlantic puffin resting peacefully under the rain. As Skomer is inhabited, puffins do not feel afraid of humans, and so people can be close to puffins and the photographer can think about the right composition and take this kind of intimate portraits. Also that morning the conditions came together: rain and light.
© Mario Suarez Porras / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Honorable mention
The Crow saw the Puffy Owl resting and decided to chase away the Owl from its territory.
© Chia Boon Oo Lawrence / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Environmental Issues, other laureates

2nd place
Eighty percent of the San Francisco Bay Area wetlands – 16,500 acres – has been developed for salt mining. Water is channeled into these large ponds, leave through evaporation, and the salt is then collected. The tint of each pond is an indication of its salinity. Micro-organisms inside the pond change color according to the salinity of its environment. This high salinity salt pond is located right next to Facebook HQ where ~4,000 people work every day.
© Chris McCann / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

3rd place
This image is a magnification of plastic particles in eyeliner exploring just one facet of the synthetic swarm suspended in our oceans. The particles, lash lengthening fibres, illuminating powders and glitters these products contain are in fact tiny pieces of plastic. Every time we wash these products from our bodies or ingest them as we lick the glosses from our lips, we unknowingly add to the trillions of micro plastic particles currently infesting every level of the ocean.
© Eleanor Ryder / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Honorable mention (1)
A young woman in bikini looks at an approaching forest fire near the beach. A firefighting plane drops water to extinguish the wildfire. This image was taken at the beach of Son Serra, on the island of Mallorca on August 18, 2016.
© Sergej Chursyn / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Honorable mention (2)
In Greenland’s pristine landscape lies a US Air Force base which was abandoned in 1947 and everything was left behind, vehicles, asbestos laced structures, and over 10,000 aviation fuel barrels. The Inuits who live in the region call the rusted remains American Flowers. In 2014 and 2015 I camped out solo to photograph it. In 2015 my 5 day solo camping trip turned into 8, as I couldn’t get picked up do to the weather.
© Ken Bower / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Honorable mention (3)
A solitary bear sits on the edge of one of the Barter Islands. There is no snow, when at this time of year, there should be. In speaking with the locals in Kaktovic, they’ve noted that it’s been an unseasonably warm winter, and that the ice will be late in forming this year. This will have an impact on the local polar bear population, when it comes time to hunt seals for their food in the winter months.
© Patty Waymire / 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year