A biology teacher at Palos Verdes High School was Tuesday named the 2021 “Underwater Photographer of the Year” for her photo of blacktip reef sharks, marking the first time a woman has won the award.
Renee Capozzola — who has taught AP biology for nearly two decades and became a certified scuba diver in 2004 — said she is “beyond proud to be the first female photographer to win this award” and that she hopes her photo will help to build awareness of how endangered sharks are throughout the world.
The photo, entitled “Sharks’ Skylight,” was chosen from among more than 4,500 entries sent in from 68 countries and features an underwater scene of blacktip reef sharks contrasted with an above-water sunset in French Polynesia.
“This is a photograph of hope, a glimpse of how the ocean can be when we give it a chance. Renee not only persevered until this serendipitous scene unfolded, but more importantly, she has the talent to capture such a precise moment,” said Alex Mustard, head judge of the Underwater Photographer of the Year competition and a former marine biologist.
Capozzola took her winning photo on the island of Moorea in August.
“French Polynesia strongly protects its sharks, it is my favorite place to photograph them,” she said in a statement released by the contest organizers. “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.”
Based in the United Kingdom, the annual competition celebrates photography beneath the surface of bodies of water, including oceans, lakes and rivers. Awards are presented in 13 categories, including four for photos taken specifically in British waters.