This is the heartbreaking story behind one of the photographs entered into the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.
The snap of a seahorse holding onto a Q-tip with its tail was taken by Californian nature photographer Justin Hofman in December 2016. He was leading an expedition in Indonesia when he came across the tiny critter and its less-than-natural find. Even though it earned him a spot on the finalist list, he told the Washington Post he wishes the photo “didn’t exist”.
Hofman was near Sumbawa in the Lesser Sunda Islands Chain, Indonesia, when a colleague pointed out a seahorse barely 3.8 centimeters (1.5 inches) in length.
As the wind started to pick up, it latched onto a piece of sea grass, he told the Washington Post in a phone interview. "Eventually more and more trash and debris started to move through," he explained.
Hofman could smell and taste the water pollution. Meanwhile, the seahorse lost its hold on the sea grass and attached itself to a piece of plastic bag before moving on to the cotton swab.
Now, he wants the world to know, telling the Washington Post he feels a responsibility "to make sure it gets to as many eyes as possible."
One good way to do that is to enter a high-profile contest. So he submitted the photo to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, which is held annually by the Natural History Museum in London.
When made a finalist, he posted the photo on Instagram. The comments poured in. "Some of them feel heartbroken, some of them feel frustrated," said Hofman. But this is good. "I want everybody to have a reaction to it,” he explained.
A report in 2015 found that roughly 8 million tonnes of plastic finds its way to the ocean every year. Indonesia is one of the worst offenders and is responsible for 10 percent of ocean plastic waste, according to that same study.
Tragically, wildlife frequently mistakes it for food and, with plastic pollution predicted to outweigh fish by 2050, “death by plastic” is likely to happen more often. It’s not just the seas around Indonesia that have been affected, plastic particles have been found in marine creatures across the world, from those lurking on the seabed to those all the way up in the Arctic circle.
"This photo serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans. What sort of future are we creating? How can your actions shape our planet?" adds Hofman.
[H/T: Washington Post]