This Heartbreaking Photo Reveals a Troubling Reality

Photographer Justin Hofman's image of a seahorse swimming with a discarded cotton swab illustrates the issues of pollution in our oceans.

Justin Hofman was leading an expedition through Borneo when a small group broke off for some impromptu snorkeling near the town of Sumbawa Besar. “The reef was actually in surprisingly good shape. It was devoid of big fish though the corals were thriving," Hofman says. "After about an hour or so of bobbing around the tide started to turn. My good friend and expert wildlife spotter Richard White found this tiny sea horse drifting near the surface.”

Seahorses ride the ocean currents by grasping floating objects with their tails. What began as amusement watching the tiny fish grasping bits of sea grass coming in with the tide turned to anger as plastic and other unnatural debris began to overtake the scene. Although a rising wind splashed polluted water in his snorkel and caused both camera and seahorse to bob around, Hofman stayed with it, capturing this image along with several others.

“It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it,” he wrote on Instagram. “What started as an opportunity to photograph a cute little sea horse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage. This photo serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans.”

This image of the seahorse grasping a cotton swab at the top of this page has been selected as a finalist in the Natural History Mueseum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Hofman is a member of the SeaLegacy Collective.

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