Curled Octopus - Billy Arthur

14 incredible photos celebrating UK marine life

6 minute read

Today is World Wildlife Day and to mark the occasion, we've put together a selection of stunning ocean photography to celebrate the incredible marine life around the UK.

Seasoned divers and photographers have shared their fascinating marine facts alongside photography techniques to capture beautiful images - read on to be inspired.

If you're a keen diver or snorkeller, our Seasearch programme is a great way of giving back and exploring the UK’s waters. Seasearch volunteers conduct underwater surveys, providing an insight into the state of the UK’s seas.

Anglerfish by Jon Bunker

Angler Fish

Credit: Jon Bunker

“Among the most beautiful of our ground-dwelling fishes, the angler fish's mottled brown tones and leafy protrusions of skin make it almost undistinguishable from the rocky, weed strewn ground divers often encounter them in. Broad circular pectoral fins seem to grip the seabed like clasping hands on either side of the massive, dustbin-lid head. Ahead of a decreasing series of weed-like dorsal spines, the anglerfish wafts its distinctive lure or ‘illicium’ to entice unwary prey into its cavernous mouth.”

Bobtail Squid by Mark Kirkland

Bobtail squid close up

Credit: Mark Kirkland

“As winter creeps in, the tiny Bobtail Squid rises from the depths of the sealochs to breed. Through September and October, they can be found in depths as shallow as ten metres. Often no larger than a golf ball, a macro lens is preferable to get the glorious and colourful details. This shot shows an eye and siphon.”

Curled Octopus by Billy Arthur

Curled Octopus - Billy Arthur

Credit: Billy Arthur

“Instantly a great dive when an octopus encounter is involved! Being quite sheltered and having lots of prey available for them, this site is a hotspot for curled octopus. It was already watching me when I finally noticed its presence, which is nearly always the case with these masters of camouflage. The plumose anemones which carpet the seabed in patches makes it a very special place.”

Variable Blenny by Dan Bolt

Variable Blenny

Credit: Dan Bolt

“The variable blenny is a relative newcomer to UK waters, arriving from the Mediterranean as a summer visitor some years ago, but is now firmly established in Babbacombe all year round. As their name suggests they are variable in colour, not only between male and female, but also when either mating or looking after a clutch of delicate eggs for weeks at a time.”

Edible Crab by Georgie Bull

Edible Crab Georgie Bull

Credit: Georgie Bull

“Over the summer I visited St. Abbs and was blown away by how many crabs and lobsters there were. The Berwickshire Marine Reserve is a very special place to dive because it is a voluntary no-take zone. Many of the marine animals here have no need to fear divers and exist in higher numbers than outside of the reserve.”

Hermit Crab & Molluscs by Kirsty Andrews

Hermit crab and other molluscs

Credit: Kirsty Andrews

“The closer you look, the more you see.  I was drawn to this tiny but colourful hermit crab on a piece of kelp in the shallows in Shetland, but I didn't appreciate until I looked closer that its shell was in turn covered in life, such as lampshells, pink encrusting algae and at the very top, a topshell.  Quite the vibrant community.”

Common Sunstar by Billy Arthur

Common Sunstar

Credit: Billy Arthur

“Typical rocky Shetland reef capped with a beautiful forest of kelp. This large common sunstar seemed to be making its way up into the kelp forest, likely in search of food. A beautiful starfish but also a voracious predator and scavenger. Once their prey has been caught by one of its many arms, they extrude their stomach out of their mouth and partially digest the meal, a gruesome end.”

Basking Shark by Mark Kirkland

Mark Kirkland Basking Shark

Credit: Mark Kirkland

“Through late summer the basking shark passes though the Isles of Coll and Tiree in huge numbers on its migratory journey north. Despite being the second largest fish in the sea (up to nine meters long) and a close relative to the great white shark, it's completely harmless, with a preference for microscopic plankton as it's food. This split shot was taken on a glorious evening's snorkel with three large individuals.”

Compass Jellyfish by Martin Stevens

Compass Jellyfish

Credit: Martin Stevens

“The jellyfish is a compass jellyfish, smaller individual from Falmouth, Cornwall in springtime. A nice encounter with a great species, locally. Taken under overcast skies, moody weather, one of the first compass jellyfish of the year.”

Painted Topshell by Billy Arthur

Painted Topshell

Credit: Billy Arthur

“One of the prettiest molluscs we find up here on the Shetland islands. This one looks to be feeding on a sea-mat which is a type of bryozoan which encrusts kelp fronds. Their stunning shells, which swash up on our beaches, are a prized find for beach combers, but they are much more stunning when alive. If you look closely, you can see its eye poking out from under the shell.”

Wolf Fish by Kirsty Andrews

Wolf fish

Credit: Kirsty Andrews

“The Berwickshire marine reserve on the Scottish borders is the most reliable spot for UK divers to see charismatic wolf fish in their rocky lairs.  They usually live singly but on one September trip, I spotted five separate pairs huddled together in different rocky hollows.  Clearly, love is in the air for wolffish in the Autumn.”

Firework Anemone by Dan Bolt

Firework Anemone

Credit: Dan Bolt

“As the UK’s biggest anemone, the Firework anemone can have a stalk and tentacles of up to 30cm long. Usually restricted to deeper waters, in many western Sea Lochs in Scotland they are accessible to sport divers. These beautiful creatures also have a party trick: under UV light they fluoresce and emit blue and green light and display patterns not seen under daylight.”

John Dory by Georgie Bull

John Dory

Credit: Georgie Bull

“I have always had a soft spot for John Dory. When I first started diving in Dorset, we were gifted with many summer nights full of John Dory. I hadn't seen one for years, but this summer they returned in good number, and I spent a good 10 minutes with this individual who was very keen to check themselves out in the reflection of my dome lens.”

Nudibranch by Billy Arthur


Credit: Billy Arthur

“An absolute stunner of a nudibranch (sea slug)! Not as common as some of the other species we find here in Shetland, which makes them even more special. Caught by the sun's rays they almost seem to sparkle. It's amazing that such tiny, delicate creatures can survive in the wild seas around Shetlands coastline. Our kelp forests around Scotland are rich with life, the biodiversity in these forests is breath-taking and we need to protect them!”

While the images above show the colourful and curious world under the surface of the UK’s seas, these fragile ecosystems are in urgent need of protection and restoration.

Make a donation to support our work

Healthier ocean healthier planet