Sea turtle biologists from the Southwest Fisheries Center in San Diego, Calif., bring a green sea turtle on board a small vessel to collect biometric data before releasing her back into the bay. Photo taken under NMFS permit # 16803. (Ralph Pace)

Three tagged rockfish are put into a milk crate with weights attached to send the fish back deeper into the ocean. When rockfish are caught, their gas bladders expand when they are brought to the surface. Because the added buoyancy, they are unable to swim back down if they are released. (Ralph Pace)

Ralph Pace didn’t plan on becoming a photographer. While pursuing a master’s degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, he started using a camera passed along by his brother to document his time in the field. As he worked, he continued making photos to show his family the incredible things he was seeing underwater and started telling stories that were important to him.

Pace has been a photographer for about four years and sees photography as a tool to share a message about issues such as climate change and to help “translate” more complicated scientific matters to others.

“Unfortunately, our planet is changing pretty fast,” Pace said. “The people that are trying to figure out how it’s happening are some of our heroes but are super underfunded, and their voice isn’t always heard.”

In Monterey, Calif., Pace continues to work closely with scientists. He spends his winter months in Maui documenting humpback whales with Whale Trust.

By spending time with marine animals, Pace has learned how best to cover them. His favorite animal to photograph is a swordfish. They are elusive, smart and “known as the king of the ocean,” Pace said. He also likes being in the water with whales, because they are curious and take notice of divers. They are friendly creatures. If an animal is swimming away, Pace said there is no point in chasing it. He treats his animal subjects with compassion to create intimate, empathetic pictures.

Photographing underwater presents challenges that are different from those people face on land. In addition to limited time and the density of water, Pace is also working next to animals that are adapted to thrive in their environment. They are stealthy, fast and can be dangerous. Although it’s a completely different world, Pace said he has learned to work better underwater than on land.

“One of those things that you get enough success to live with it but enough failure to keep coming back,” Pace said.

A research assistant with the Pfleger Institute of Environmental Research prepares satellite telemetry tags to be deployed on bluefin tuna off the California coast. (Ralph Pace)

Using two cameras, Nicole Pedersen takes thousands of photos of a coral reef that will be stitched together in the lab. Once these images are arranged in a 3D mosaic, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography can study and monitor how corals grow and decline in response to changing ocean conditions. (Ralph Pace)

Trapped in a lobster pot, a scrawled filefish and juvenile princess parrotfish look for an escape on the Saba Bank in the Caribbean. (Ralph Pace)

Pfleger Institute of Environment Research researchers prepare to tag a swordfish. (Ralph Pace)

A divemaster blows bubbles underneath an oceanic manta. (Ralph Pace)

Moises Bezerra collects muscle and skin samples for isotopes and contaminants analysis from a shovelnose guitarfish in San Diego Bay as part of his doctoral work. (Ralph Pace)

Coco, the first tagged loggerhead sea turtle off the West Coast of the United States, swims away with a satellite tag that will give insights about the foraging areas of these turtles. Photo taken under NMFS permit # 14510. (Ralph Pace)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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