Selected from thousands of entries, an underwater photo of sardine migration on the Wild Coast of South Africa has been selected as the grand-prize winner of the 2016 National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year contest. The photo, titled “Sardine Run,” was captured by Greg Lecoeur of Nice, France. Lecoeur took the photo in June 2015 after waiting two weeks to witness the natural predation on sardines captured in the photo.

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.

Contestants submitted photographs in four categories — Action, Landscape, Animal Portraits and Environmental Issues — through Nat Geo’s photography community, Your Shot.

Love nature and wildlife photography? Why not also see: Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Images You’ll Never Forget

National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year Winners:

Grand Prize Winner: Sardine Run   

Photo and caption by G. Lecoeur

 I captured this image during the migration of the sardines along the wild coast of South Africa. Natural predation, sardines are preyed upon by cape gannet birds and common dolphins. The hunt begins with common dolphins that have developed special hunting techniques. With remarkable eyesight, the gannets follow the dolphins before diving in a free fall from 30 to 40 meters high, piercing the surface of the water head first at a speed of 80km/h to get their fill of sardines.

Location: Port Saint John’s, Eastern Cape, South Africa

National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year

Second Place Winner, Action: Approach  

Photo and caption by Tori Shea-Ostberg

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.

Location: Wray, Colorado, United States

National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year tornado

Third Place Winner, Action: Changing Fortunes of the Great Egret

Photo and caption by Zsolt Kudich

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.

Location: Balatonhídvégpuszta, Zala, Hungary

National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year egret - 1024 x 768

Honorable Mention, Action: Jellyfish Feast

Photo and caption by Scott Portelli

Green turtles devour the soft tentacles of a jellyfish which are a common food source for many turtles.

Location: Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australianat geo winner nature photographer of the year jelly fish feast - 1024 x 768

First Place Winner, Landscape: Struggle of life

Photo and caption by Jacob Kaptein

 To restore original natural dynamics in streams many measures are necessary. In the ‘Leuvenumse beek’ a nature organisation tried to increase heterogeneity of the river bottom and water retention by putting dead wood in the stream system. In autumn when rainfall is high, pieces of forest get flooded. Once i saw this little beech in the water, trying to survive under these harsh conditions. I returned sometimes to this place to take pictures. One evening all the conditions were satisfactory.

Location: Leuvenum, Gelderland, Netherlandsnat geo winner nature photographer of the year landscape - 1024 x 768

Second Place Winner, Landscape: Wild rink

Photo and caption by Alessandro Gruzza

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.

Location: Around Mt. Cimon de la Pala, Paneveggio-Pale San Martino Natural Park, Italy.

nat geo winner nature photographer of the year wild rink - 1024 x 768

Third Place Winner, Landscape: Pacific Storm

Photo and caption by Santiago Borja

A colossal Cumulonimbus flashes over the Pacific Ocean as we circle around it at 37000 feet en route to South America.

Location: Over the Pacific Ocean

nat geo winner nature photographer of the year pacific storm - 1024 x 768

Honorable Mention, Landscape: Serendipitous Green Meteor

Photo and caption by Prasenjeet Yadav

 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.Location: India

nat geo winner nature photographer of the year green meteor - 1024 x 768First Place Winner, Animal Portraits: Dragging you Deep into the Woods!

Photo and caption by Varun Aditya

A morning stroll into the blissful forest! Ceaseless drizzles dampening the woods for 12 hours a day; The serene gloom which kept me guessing if it was a night or a day. Heavy fog, chilling breeze and the perennial silence could calm roaring sprits; And there I spotted this 20cm  beauty the Green vine snake ! I wondered if I needed more reasons to capture this with 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.

Location: Amboli, Maharashtra, Indianat geo winner nature photographer of the year snake - 1024 x 768Second Place Winner, Animal Portraits: Proud Momma

Photo and caption by Michael O’Neill

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.

Location: South Miami, Florida, United States

nat geo winner nature photographer of the year proud moma - 1024 x 768

Third Place Winner, Animal Portraits: Friendship knows no color

Photo and caption by Jose Pesquero Gomez

‘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.

Location: Madrid, Madrid, Spainnat geo winner nature photographer of the year friendship - 1024 x 768

Honorable Mention, Animal Portraits: Puffin studio

Photo and caption by Mario Suarez Porras

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.

Location: Marloes, Wales, United Kingdom

National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year puffin studio - 1024 x 768

Honorable Mention, Animal Portraits: Crow chasing Puffy Owl

Photo and caption by Chia Boon Oo Lawrence

The Crow saw the Puffy Owl resting and decided to chase away the Owl from its territory.

nat geo winner nature photographer of the year crow owl

First Place Winner, Environmental Issues: Life and Death

Photo and caption by Vadim Balakin

These polar bear remains have been discovered at one of the islands of Northern Svalbard. Unfortunately we do not know definitely whether the bear died from starving or aging, but more likely if we see the good teeth status – from starving . They say nowadays such remains to be founded very often – global warming and ice situation influence the polar bear population a lot.

Location: Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Svalbard and Jan Mayen

nat geo winner nature photographer of the year life and death - 1024 x 768

Second Place Winner, Environmental Issues: The View Outside Facebook HQ

Photo and caption by Chris McCann

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.

Location: Ravenswood, California, United States

National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year fb hq - 1024 x 768

Third Place Winner, Environmental Issues: Toxic Vanity

Photo and caption by Eleanor Ryder

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.

Location: Falmouth, England, United KingdomNational Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year toxic vanity - 1024 x 768

Honorable Mention, Environmental Issues: no snow, no ice?

Photo and caption by Patty Waymire

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…

Location: Barter Islands National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year polar bear - 1024 x 768

Honorable Mention, Environmental Issues: Wildfire at the beach

Photo and caption by Sergej Chursyn

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.

Location: Son Serra de Marina, Balearic Islands, Spain National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year wildlife - 1024 x 768

Honorable Mention, Environmental Issues: American Flowers #1

Photo and caption by Ken Bower

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.

Location: Kuummiit, Sermersooq, Greenland

National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year greenland - 1024 x 768

Let us know your favourite National Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year winner in a comment below or share this story on Facebook.

Source: http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/nature-photographer-of-the-year-2016/

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