(The Verge) How a photographer snapped this tragic photo of a seahorse lugging a Q-tip
When nature photographer Justin Hofman was out snorkeling off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumbawa last year, he didn’t know he was going to stumble upon what could be the poster child for today’s marine trash crisis: a tiny seahorse latching onto a cotton swab.
The photo, which Hofman posted on Instagram, is now a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition from the Natural History Museum in London. In the post, Hofman said he wishes the photo didn’t exist. “I wish that this scene didn’t happen every day, that’s the thing,” he tells The Verge. “I spend a lot of time underwater all over the world, and I see trash and debris and human waste all over the place.”
Hofman says he’s been passionate about the problem of marine plastic pollution for a long time. He’s based in Monterey, California, but he’s an expedition leader for a company that takes people all over the world on wild tours. And he’s always talked to people about wildlife and conservation issues. Entering the photography competition has been a way to allow “a larger audience to come into the conversation I’ve been having for years,” he tells The Verge.
The seahorse in Hofman’s photo is just one example of how marine animals interact with plastic debris. Every year, tons and tons of plastic trash enters the ocean — shredding into pieces that are found virtually everywhere, from the surface to the bottom of the sea and on remote islands. Plastic pollution is dangerous for marine animals: birds and fish can die from ingesting too much plastic, and larger animals like whales and sharks can get tangled in fish nets and die. Some estimates say that by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea.