The golden horseshoe: Laurent Ballesta wins Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023 for the second time

Selected from 49,957 entries from 95 countries, the winners of the Natural History Museum’s prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition were revealed at an awards ceremony in South Kensington.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023

French underwater photographer and marine biologist Laurent Ballesta was awarded Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023 for ‘The golden horseshoe’, an otherworldly image of a tri-spine horseshoe crab accompanied by a trio of golden trevallies. 

The tri-spine horseshoe crab has survived for more than 100 million years but now faces habitat destruction and overfishing for food and for its blue blood, used in the development of vaccines. But, in the protected waters of Pangatalan Island in the Philippines, there is hope for its survival.

Chair of the jury and editor, Kathy Moran says, ‘To see a horseshoe crab so vibrantly alive in its natural habitat, in such a hauntingly beautiful way, was astonishing. We are looking at an ancient species, highly endangered, and also critical to human health. This photo is luminescent.’ 

Laurent is only the second photographer in the competition’s fifty-nine-year history to be awarded the Grand Title award twice. He was first awarded Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2021 for his intriguing image of camouflage groupers exiting a milky cloud of eggs and sperm in Fakarava, French Polynesia.  

 ©Carmel Bechler, Wildlife Photographer of the Year
 ©Carmel Bechler, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023

Seventeen-year-old Carmel Bechler from Israel was awarded Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023 for his ‘Owls’ road house’, a dynamic frame of barn owls in an abandoned roadside building. Using the family car as hide, Carmel made the most of natural light and long exposure times to capture the light trails of passing traffic. 

Carmel was just 11 years old when he began wildlife photography, and this is his first award in the annual competition. ‘I hope to share with my photography that the beauty of the natural world is all around us, even in places where we least expect it to be, we just need to open our eyes and our minds,’ says Carmel.

‘This photograph has so many layers in terms of content and composition. It simultaneously screams “habitat destruction” and “adaptation”, begging the question: If wildlife can adapt to our environment, why can’t we respect theirs?,’ says Kathy Moran. 

Catalyst for change

The two Grand Title winners were selected from 19 astounding category winners that showcase the rich diversity of life on Earth. In an intensive process, each entry was judged anonymously by an international panel of experts on its originality, narrative, technical excellence, and ethical practice.

Dr Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum comments, ‘Whilst inspiring absolute awe and wonder, this year’s winning images present compelling evidence of our impact on nature – both positive and negative. Global promises must shift to action to turn the tide on nature’s decline.’

The newly redesigned exhibition also features videos showing the impact wildlife photography can have, and insights from jury members, photographers and Museum scientists to invite visitors to advocate for the natural world. The journey continues online with planet-positive actions audiences can take. The exhibition will tour across the UK and internationally to venues in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, New Zealand, Singapore, and more.

Sixtieth anniversary

The sixtieth Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition will open for entries from photographers of all ages, nationalities, and experience levels on Monday 16 October 2023. Ahead of the momentous anniversary, Wildlife Photographer of the Year has announced the international jury of industry experts, an entry fee waiver for over 100 countries, changes to the competition’s rules, and a new prize to further encourage hopeful stories of the natural world.

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