Heartbreaking Image of Strangled Sea Turtle on Alabama Beach Featured in Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards

The U.K.'s Natural History Museum has released highly commended images from its Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019 competition, and it includes a tragic image showing the impact of human waste on the natural world.

"Beach Waste" by photographer Matthew Ware shows a Kemp's ridley sea turtle trapped by a fatal noose that is attached to a washed up beach chair on Alabama's Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. Ware's photograph has been Highly Commended for Wildlife Photojournalism in the competition.

Matthew Ware Beach Waste 2019
"Beach Waste" by Matthew Ware, USA. Highly Commended 2019, Wildlife Photojournalism. Matthew Ware/Natural History Museum

According to the Natural History Museum, the Kemp's ridley is one of the smallest sea turtles, measuring at 65 centimeters long. It is also one of the most endangered. Over the past 50 years, human consumption of eggs and meat and capture in fishing nets have greatly reduced the sea turtle's numbers.

Ware takes daily nesting patrol at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and witnesses sea turtle injuries or drowning from huge amounts of discarded fishing gear and rubbish that ends up in the ocean. This is despite the protection the refuge provides, including limited nesting sites and a requirement for trawlers to use turtle excluders.

The photograph not only shows a sad image of a defenseless sea turtle strangled on a beautiful beach, but it also bears a warning about the dangers of human waste in the world's oceans. The image also echoes the chilling images caught in the Philippines of a whale with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach.

Sleeping like a Weddell
"Sleeping like a Weddell" by Ralf Schneider. Highly Commended 2019. Weddell seals are the world’s most southerly breeding mammals, populating inshore habitats around the Antarctic continent. Ralf Schneider./Natural History Museum

According to the Ocean Conservancy, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean every year, on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate marine environments. The organization also says that plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtle species, which mistake plastic for food. When the animals ingest the plastic, it can cause life-threatening problems, including reduced fitness, nutrient uptake and feeding efficiency. Human waste, such as fishing nets, can also put sea life at risk of drowning if they get caught up in them.

The Natural History Museum's acclaimed Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and exhibition has been running for 55 years and showcases images that highlight the fragility of wildlife. The competition aims to inspire people to think differently about their relationship with nature. It was founded in 1965 by the BBC Wildlife Magazine, with the Natural History Museum joining forces in 1984 and now solely running the competition.

Other entries that were highly commended showed the funnier side of nature. "Lucky break" by photographer Jason Bantle, which was highly commended in the Urban Wildlife category, is an image of a racoon poking her face out of a 1970s Ford Pinto on a deserted farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. According to the Natural History Museum, in the back seat, her five playful kits trill with excitement. The only access into the car was through the small hole in the safety glass of the windscreen, which was too narrow for the animal's primary predator, the coyote, to fit through.

Lucky Break Raccoon
"Lucky Break" by Jason Bantle, Canada. Highly Commended 2019, Urban Wildlife: An ever-adaptable raccoon pokes her bandit-masked face out of a 1970s Ford Pinto on a deserted farm in Saskatchewan, Canada. Jason Bantle/Natural History Museum

"If penguins could fly" by Eduardo Del Álamo, which was highly commended in the Behavior: Mammals category, shows a darker side of nature. The photograph shows a Gentoo penguin fleeing for its life as a leopard seal bursts out of the water. According to the website, the leopard seal pursued the penguin for more than 15 minutes before finally catching and eating it.

Seal Penguin NHM
"If penguins could fly" by Eduardo Del Álamo, Spain. Highly Commended 2019, Behavior, Mammals. A Gentoo penguin—the fastest underwater swimmer of all penguins—flees for its life as a leopard seal bursts out of the water. Eduardo Del Álamo/Natural History Museum

The overall winners will be announced on October 15, 2019, at an awards ceremony in the Natural History Museum's Hintze Hall. According to the organization, the competition attracted almost 50,000 entries from professionals and amateurs across 100 countries.

The competition is open to photographers of all ages and abilities with the 2020 competition opening for entries on October 21, 2019, and closing at 11.30 a.m. GMT on December 12, 2019.

Touching trust Whale
"Touching Trust" by Thomas P Peschak, Germany/South Africa. Highly Commended 2019, Wildlife Photojournalism: A curious young grey whale approaches a pair of hands reaching down from a tourist boat in San Ignacio Lagoon, on the coast of Mexico’s Baja California. Thomas P Peschak/Natural History Museum

The full range of photographs from the competition will be open to the public on October 18, 2019, at the Natural History Museum, with the full collection of 100 images available to pre-order.