The climax of this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards saw an image of
group-grouper sex take the top prize.
Captured by French photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta at the Fakarava
Atoll, of French Polynesia in the South Pacific, the winning photo depicts the frantic
mating scene between camouflage grouper, in which several male fish crowd around
one female in a cloud of sperm and eggs, in hopes some will find each other to
nurture an embryo.
Jury chair for the Natural History Museum of London’s contest, Roz Kidman Cox,
hailed the image as a technical feat. “It’s partly the setting, taken during a full moon,
but also the timing of it, knowing when to take the picture,” Cox said in a statement,
the BBC reported.
Camouflage grouper spawn during July’s full moon, drawing in an estimated 20,000
fish for the mass mating event — with hungry reef sharks in tow.
Marine activist Laurent and his team spent five years in the lagoon, enduring “3,000
hours of diving, to get this particular moment,” he said.
The image, aptly titled “Creation,” also earned the professional expedition guide the
Underwater photography award.
As overfishing threatens the species, Laurent’s photo is a “symbol” of the groupers’
struggle to survive, he said. “I’m attached to this picture because of the shape of the
cloud of eggs: it looks like an upside-down question mark.”
“It’s a question of the future of these eggs because only one in one million will
become an adult, but it’s maybe more symbolic of the future of nature,” he explained.
“It’s a very important question about the future of nature.”
Laurent described the lauded photograph in dramatic fashion on his Instagram page.
He mused, “The dark waters of the night soon become milky white. The groupers
abandon their fertilized eggs in the strong stream of the channel. The cloud of eggs
will scatter in the open ocean far from the reef and its plankton predators.”