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Image of grouper orgy wins first prize for photography

The culmination of this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards saw a group-group sex image win the top prize.

Captured by French photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta at Fakarava Atoll, French Polynesia in the South Pacific, the winning photo depicts the frenzied mating scene between camouflaged groupers, in which several male fish crowd around a female in a cloud of sperm and eggs, in the hope that some will be found to feed an embryo.

The President of the Natural History Museum in London competition jury, Roz Kidman Cox, hailed the image as a technical feat. “It’s part of the setting, taken during a full moon, but also the timing, knowing when to take the picture,” Cox said in a statement, reported by the BBC.

Camouflage groupers appear during the July full moon, attracting around 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 special 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 for survival, he said. “I am attached to this photo because of the shape of the cloud of eggs: it looks like an upside down question mark.

“This is about the future of these eggs because only one in a million will become adults, but it is perhaps more symbolic of the future of nature,” he explained. “This is a very important question about the future of nature.

Laurent described the rented photograph dramatically on his Instagram page.

He thought, “The dark waters of the night soon turn milky white.” Groupers abandon their fertilized eggs in the strong current of the channel. The cloud of eggs will disperse in the open sea far from the reef and its planktonic predators.

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