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This little seahorse lugging a Q-tip will break your heart

Nature photographer Justin Hofman might have captured the quintessential representation of humanity’s impact on the planet.

Absolutely adorable, infinitely insightful and painfully heartbreaking, the photograph taken off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumbawa shows a vulnerable 1.5-inch tall seahorse dragging along a worn Q-tip.

Hofman works as an expedition leader for a wildlife tour company. The 33-year-old California based photographer was snorkelling in Indonesia in one of those excursions when the tide suddenly changed bringing in copious amounts of garbage.

Among the invading pieces of rotten algae and wood, the minuscule seahorse held first onto an aimless piece of grass, but finally settled for the plastic Q-tip.

“If you look at the picture, there are actually some white blobs in the background. And those white blobs are actually plastic bags,” Hoffman told The Verge,  “There was a lot of trash. It was actually disgusting. The water started to smell.”

It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it. 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 sea horse drifts long with the trash day in and day out as it rides the currents that flow along the Indonesian archipelago. 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?
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thanks to @eyosexpeditions for getting me there and to @nhm_wpy and @sea_legacy for getting this photo in front of as many eyes as possible. Go to @sea_legacy to see how you can make a difference. . #plastic #seahorse #wpy53 #wildlifephotography #conservation @nhm_wpy @noaadebris #switchthestick

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Hofman had a 16 to 35mm lens on his Sony a7R II at the moment, not exactly the ideal weapon of choice for such a minuscule subject. Wide angle lenses are usually better suited for ample scenes where you want the most depth of field as possible. On paper, this particular situation was ideal for a macro lens, capable of multiplying the size of a subject many times.

Macro and zoom lenses have an inherent difficulty though. They’re designed to capture a small portion of your field of view, which makes them incredibly difficult to use on moving elements. At the end, the wide lens actually made it easier for Hofman to accurately frame the little guy who was constantly drifting with the tide. “I never would have been able to get this thing framed with a macro lens,” he says.

The photograph is now a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition from the Natural History Museum in London. His goal of getting the photo in front of as many eyes as possible has been realised.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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