'We've got to look after this planet' says winner of Nikon Small World contest

Story highlights

  • Microscopic photography contest enters its 41st year
  • More than 2,000 submissions were received from 83 countries
  • Winning photo of bee should act as a warning to us, photographer says

(CNN)A photo that brings viewers face-to-face with a honey bee has won a prestigious international photography contest that celebrates microscopic imagery in a blend of art and science.

Australian Ralph Grimm took the top prize in the annual Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition, for his incredible close-up image of a bee eye covered in dandelion pollen.
"It's quite amazing, I was overwhelmed," Grimm said of winning the competition, which he has been entering for more than 16 years.
    "Each year we are blown away by the incredible quality and quantity of microscopic images submitted from all over the world," said Nikon's Eric Flem.
    Now in its 41st year, the Nikon Small World competition was founded in 1974 to recognize excellence in photography through the microscope.
    A high school teacher from Jimboomba, Queensland, Grimm is a self-taught photomicrographer. Previously he had been named as an honorable mention, but said he never dreamed that he'd scoop the top prize.
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    A photo with a message

    Taking the photo of the bee's eye took almost five hours of careful preparation to set up the camera and capture the images.
    As a former beekeeper, Grimm said the subject was dear to his heart, particularly given the ongoing crisis of colony collapse disorder.
    "We are changing this planet at a very rapid rate. Bees are very sensitive creatures and they're responding to changes in the environment," he said.
    "My great fear is that the decline in the bee population could signify the beginning of something a lot more dramatic to come."
    Bee populations have declined worldwide in recent decades, with honeybee colonies in the U.S. alone plummeting from more than five million in the 1940s to around 2.7 million today, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Declining bee populations

    Researchers have blamed a number of reasons for the drastic decline, including pollution, insecticides, parasites, bacteria, environmental stress and even a lack of pollen.
    Bees are vital to the pollination of many fruits and plants, contributing an estimated $15 billion in value to U.S. crops every year, according to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
    In May, the Obama administration announced new steps to help support and protect the bee population, including limiting pesticide use and supporting a measure calling for the planting of bee-friendly flowers and plants at federal offices across the country.
    Grimm said that he hoped through his image he could reach out to people and help them reconnect to nature.
    "Nature is fantastic on all levels, from the microscopic to the macroscopic," he said.
    "We've got to look after this planet."