This photo of blacktip reef sharks cruising beneath sea gulls at sunset in French Polynesia has won Renee Capozzola from the US the Underwater Photographer of the Year 2021.

Capozzola’s photo triumphed over 4,500 underwater pictures entered by photographers from 68 countries. She is the first female photographer to be named overall winner of the prestigious international photography contest.

To shoot Sharks’ Skylight she travelled to the tiny island of Moorea in August 2020. “French Polynesia strongly protects its sharks, it is my favourite place to photograph them,” she explains. “I dedicated several evenings to photographing in the shallows at sunset, and I was finally rewarded with this scene: glass-calm water, a rich sunset, sharks and even birds.”

Dr Alexander Mustard, the Chair of the competition judges, said “this is a photograph of hope, a glimpse of how the ocean can be when we give it a chance, thriving with spectacular life both below and above the surface.”

The annual Underwater Photographer of the Year contest is based in the UK and attracts entries from all around the world. It has 13 categories, testing photographers with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck photography, as well as four categories for photos taken specifically in British waters.