A young girl hugs a frog protectively cupped in her hands. A maddened shark gapes its maws at a scurrying school of fish. A sand dune envelops an abandoned house.

These and many more visions have been highlighted this year in a global photo contest held annually by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a charitable environmental organisation working to protect our world's lands and waters.

The contest, which accepts entries from anywhere on Earth, "is a wonderful intersection for those who love nature and those who love photography," says one of the judges and TNC's director of photography Bill Marr.

"We have wonderful entries from all over the world, from beautiful Western landscapes to squirrels in a backyard in Austria. Photography is a common language for all."

The judges had their work cut out for them this year, with a record number of 57,489 entries that came from 135 countries.

Below, we have highlighted a selection of these beautiful works that we can't stop admiring.

Winner: Landscape category | Namibian Curves | Sossusvlei, Namibia

Paul Zizka Namibian Curves(Paul Zizka, Banff, Alberta, Canada)

"We were on our Chronicles of Namibia workshop, wrapping up a wonderful evening of shooting in the Sossusvlei area. On the drive back to camp, this most simple composition caught my eye. I couldn't resist and stopped the group to get this shot. Sossusvlei, Namibia. 17/11/17."

Judges' special recognition | La Pacha Mama | Colombia

Ruben Dario Mejia 6.1.18(Ruben Dario Mejia, Barranquilla, Colombia)

"A model holding the ribs of a dry leaf. Juan de Acosta, Atlantic, January 08 2017. Nature is a generous mother."

Judges' special recognition | Welcome to My Humble Abode | Scotland

Duncan Mcnaught 02 Apr 2018 09 04 UK(Duncan McNaught, Castle Douglas, United Kingdom)

"A tiny fungi gnat sheltering inside the canopy of a toadstool, South Scotland 2017."

Winner: Water category | Her Majesty | Australia

Aristo Risi(Aristo Risi, Shellharbour, Australia)

"A plastic bag in its natural habitat, the ocean. Shot in Shellharbour in 2017. Plastic was once worshiped, now it destroys everything we love. Nature connects us all, we have a duty to protect her."

Winner: Cities and Nature category | Reclamation | United Arab Emirates

Jesse Yang 16Apr18 1221(Jesse Yang, Fort Lee, New Jersey, USA)

"The eeriness of exploring this ghost town in United Arab Emirates went away after an hour or so of exploring. But, I still felt uneasy about entering some of these 'homes.' It felt like I was trespassing, so I tried being oddly respectful. The Arabian Desert obviously didn't feel the same way, reminding me that nature will always reclaim what we abandon." 

Winner: Landscape category | Pure Energy and Fire | Mexico

Hernando Alonso Rivera Cervantes 6.1.18(Hernando Alonso Rivera Cervantes, Villa de Alvarez, Mexico)

"Colima volcano erupting during the night showing its strength, was taken in the Yerbabuena, Comala, Colima. Volcanic eruptions in small quantities help reduce global warming."

Winner: People and Nature category | Slender Slots | Utah

Tanner Latham people nature(Tanner Latham, Bozeman, Montana, USA)

"Squeezing through one of the incredibly narrow slot canyons in Escalante National Monument. Taken on a week long expedition through the deserts of southern Utah."

Winner: Wildlife category | The Hunter | Mexico

Roberto Moccini Formiga 5.19.18(Roberto Moccini Formiga, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

"A large white shark hunts in the waters of Guadalupe Island, Mexico."

Winner, 3rd place overall | Frog Hug | Arkansas

Terra Fondriest 03 Apr 2018 07 01 Arkansas(Terra Fondriest, Arkansas, USA)

"Down at the mud puddles on our road, we found several young bullfrogs hopping around. Up on our hilltop, wet spots are few and far between, so our mud puddles are home to a constant flow of tadpoles, frogs and toads.

"My daughter loves all critters, her goal is to create a wildlife rehab centre someday. She constantly inspires me with her care towards every living thing."

Winner, 2nd place overall | The End is Near | Iceland

Andre Mercier 19May18 1346(Andre Mercier, Los Angeles, California, USA)

"This ice could be thousands of years old, and only recently broke off the Vatnajokull Glacier at Jokulsarlon Bay in Iceland, and will soon melt into the sea. Taken July 2017 in Iceland." 

Winner, 1st place overall | Stallions Playing | Camargue, France

Camille Briottet 5.19.18(Camille Briottet, Lyon, France)

"The power of the animal kingdom." 

You can see all of the 2018 winners on TNC's website here.