The Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize 2014 has gained such cachet that its outreach from the South Australian Museum this year drew 627 entires from 11 countries.
From Belarus and Mexico, Canada and Japan, Spain, England and Hungry they flowed.
But it was a quiet, collage artist from Queensland whose images of mangroves trumped them all to win the coveted $50,000 acquisitive first prize.
The judges recognised Carole King's High Tide, Wynnum as a stand-out work which speaks not only of shimmering natural beauty but also, subtly, of human intrusion.
As she depicts them in the meticulous layers of collage, so does she immerse herself in them, become part of them.
"I am in there with the mangroves, part of the landscape," she says. "They catch my soul."
Look from afar at her work, and it has an almost photo-realist detail. Close up, however, the depth of handiwork can be seen, from paint and pasted layers of paper and fabric through to fine pen squiggles and even newsprint.
"There is a sense of the paper taking over, a reference to the sad inevitability of ecosystems being cleared," said the judges.
Ms King, who has been painting Queensland habitats for 15 years, notes that an international prize such as the Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize "encourages artists world-wide to look at their country's ecosystems; to gain an understanding of how precious and vulnerable these special areas are."
The annual prize is now in its 12th year.
"It is an opportunity for art and scientific observations to combine in a totally original way," adds the South Australian Museum's director, Brian Oldman.
"This is a compelling display of science as seen through the lens of the artist."
There is an ever-growing abundance of entries in diverse mediums: pottery items; glasswork; hanging sculptures; delicate ceramics; oil paintings; drawings; and watercolours. There are entries huge and some petite.
There are examples from renowned artists and unknowns. This year there is even a vet, self-taught in art, among the finalists.
And there are several categories, generously enabled by both government and corporate sponsorship.
Victorian artist Richard Dunlop, who has won a Waterhouse prize before, scored the $12,000 Paintings prize with a work called The Path of the Eel while Pamela French from NSW was awarded the $12,000 Works on Paper category for Studies from the shelf II and Harriet Schwarzrock from NSW took off the Sculpture and Objects prize for her blown glass work breathe.
There are two prizes as yet un-awarded in this extraordinary art competition. The $5,000 People's Choice and Dr Wendy Wickes Memorial Prizes will be decided by votes from visitors to the exhibition which will be on show at the Museum from Saturday 26 July until Sunday September 7 after which an exhibition of winning and highly commended works will be on display at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra from September 26 until November 9.
2014 category winners:
Works on Paper: Pamela French, NSW, for Studies from the shelf II, ink on system cards.
Youth Prize: Jennifer Ahrens, SA, Heartwood #7, oil paint on glass casting its own shadow.
Story first appeared on InDaily.