Hypnotic Underwater Photos Show Coral Reefs in Kaleidoscopic Beauty

Vibrant coral reef scene with a symmetrical arrangement featuring various types and colors of coral, including pink, red, green, and yellow, surrounded by clear blue water. The mirrored effect creates a visually stunning, kaleidoscopic underwater landscape.
Photographer Georgette Apol Douwma’s technique involves altering her earlier pictures, such as one taken in 2015 of corals in the Red Sea, to create new eye-catching displays.

When Georgette Apol Douwma hung up her diving gear in 2020 at 79 years old, she did so with a vast catalog of beautiful underwater photos, many focusing on coral reefs and their inhabitants. She dove all around the world and is now revisiting some of her images, processing them with a kaleidoscopic look that is thoroughly mesmerizing.

Coral reefs comprise less than one percent of the ocean floor on Earth, but they are disproportionately impactful on life, helping sustain 25 percent of all marine species. Bustling hubs of biodiversity, coral reefs face an existential threat from human activity, including ocean warming due to climate change and acidification from excessive fishing and pollution.

However, it was the beauty of coral reefs that “first caught the attention of photographer Georgette Apol Douwma during a trip to the Great Barrier Reef in the 1970s,” writes Hicks Wogan for National Geographic in the new June 2024 issue.

An underwater scene showcases a symmetrical arrangement of vibrant coral and colorful fish. Clusters of red, pink, and purple coral are centralized, surrounded by schools of blue and yellow fish swimming in clear blue water.
‘Yellowback Fusiliers:’ Swimming past corals in Indonesia’s West Papua Province, the school of fish appears to quadruple in number after Douwma edited a 2017 photograph.

About 40 years later, and after many dives and thousands of photographs, Douwma is exploring her vast catalog of photos, breathing new life into the images with incredible photo editing techniques. Douwma has crafted symmetrical pictures of coral reefs that look like what one could see when peering through a kaleidoscope by duplicating and reversing her photos.

Cover of National Geographic magazine featuring fish swimming in a stream. The top of the cover reads "National Geographic" with articles including "The Science of Stress," "Lava Tubes," "Gulf of Maine," and "Rescuing Histories" listed at the bottom.
Douwma’s images are featured in the June 2024 issue of National Geographic

While gorgeous and vibrant, the eye-catching photos also underlie the importance of coral reefs, as the images are teeming with the very marine life that now faces cataclysmic destruction. Many people are unable to see the coral reefs with their own eyes, so it’s important to see them in a way that attracts attention, and Douwma’s photos certainly achieve that — they are entirely entrancing.

A vibrant, symmetrical abstract design features numerous bulbous shapes in various colors, including blue, red, orange, and yellow. The shapes are textured and appear to overlap, creating a kaleidoscopic, mirrored pattern against a dark blue background.
‘Bubble-tip Anemone:’ In this image based on a photograph taken in Indonesia in 2011, an anemone shows signs of bleaching after expelling the organisms that provided it with nutrients. Healthy examples support many species of anemonefish.

Many more of Douwma’s kaleidoscopic coral reef photos are available on National Geographic‘s website and in the June 2024 issue.

Image credits: Photographs by Georgette Apol Douwma. More of Douwma’s work is available in the June 2024 issue of National Geographic, which is available now.