Photographer Justin Hofman was snorkeling along the beautiful coast of Indonesia when the tide swept a mountain of garbage his way.
“It was really quite gross,” he says. He had been snapping underwater photos of the brilliant coral and different kinds of interesting fish when his field of view was suddenly swamped with trash and sewage.
He continued swimming away from the trash, his camera at the ready, when something tiny caught his eye. Below the wave of garbage, a tiny orange seahorse floated by, its tail wrapped serenely around a pink cotton swab. The juxtaposition struck him, and he quickly snapped a picture.
“This image was a perfect combination of our experiences in Indonesia,” he explains. “Amazing wildlife, but terrible pollution.”
The photo struck a nerve with everyone who saw it. Hofman submitted the image to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition held by the Natural History Museum in London, where it’s currently a finalist.
He also posted it to his own Instagram account, where it quickly went viral, attracting over 16,000 Likes and endless waves of supportive comments.
“It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it,” he wrote in the caption. “What sort of future are we creating? How can your actions shape our planet?”
Ocean pollution is a problem that extends far beyond the shores of Indonesia. It’s, well, everywhere.
Here’s a disgusting thought: Over a billion pounds of garbage enters the ocean from around the world each year. There are masses of plastic and garbage — called “plastic patches” — clumped together floating through the seas, some that are even bigger than some countries.
This isn’t a new problem, but it is one that can seem far away, distant and out of sight amidst the endless ocean. Hofman’s photo is a reminder that it’s anything but. After all, who hasn’t used a Q-tip recently? How many of us have thought about where that Q-tip would end up?
This seahorse “surfing” on a cotton swab might make a fascinating photo, but as Hofman wrote, it’d be a heck of a lot better if it didn’t exist at all.