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See the beauties and the beasts that live under the sea

Even a humble sea slug can be stylish, if you find the right slug in the right place. That's what photographer Ximena Olds did when she snapped a picture of an orange headshield sea slug amid the green seagrass in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her contrasting-color picture took the top prize in this year's Underwater Photography Contest, hosted by the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

More than 700 images were submitted for the 2012 contest, showing scenes from 20 countries. Awards were given in several categories, including Macro, Wide Angle, and Fish or Marine Mammal Portrait. Another category was set aside for University of Miami students. Olds' photo was submitted in the Macro category but was singled out for the "Best Overall" prize.

The judges included University of Miami lecturer Myron Wang, underwater photographer Nicole Wang and Michael Schmale, a professor at the Rosenstiel School.

"The quality of photos keeps getting better each year," Myron Wang, who has been judging the contest since its inception in 2005, said in today's announcement of the winners. "Judging becomes more difficult when you have so many wonderful pictures to choose from. For me, there were excellent entries in every category, but this year’s standout was the great picture of the juvenile sperm whale taken by Douglas Kahle in Dominica — it is spectacular!”

This year, for the first time, a "Fan Favorite" category was created for Internet voting. More than 1,200 ballots were cast in the poll, with Todd Aki's shot of a silhouetted jellyfish taking the prize.

The underwater photography contest is held annually, and is open to all amateur photographers who earn no more than 20 percent of their income from their photography. Click through the slideshow above, or check out the Rosenstiel School's website for more about the winners.

More underwater beauties:

Alan Boyle is's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter or adding Cosmic Log's Google+ page to your circle. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for other worlds.