A nominee for the Natural History Museum's 53rd "Wildlife Photographer of the Year" award regrets the existence of the photo that earned him the nomination.
The photo, taken by California-based photographer Justin Hofman, depicts a small orange-brown seahorse clinging to an object with its tail, which the Natural History Museum says seahorses often do to ride ocean currents.
Hofman's issue is not with the seahorse, nor with the overall framing of the photo. It's with the object the seahorse is holding: a pink, plastic Q-Tip. The water in which the seahorse is swimming is also clouded with debris.
Ocean plastic is considered to be a major issue by many scientists and environmentally-concerned individuals. Both the Natural History Museum and the UN Environment Program (UNEP) warn that unnatural ocean waste could outweigh the amount of fish in the sea by the year 2050.
The country in which the photo was taken, Indonesia, is home to the widest array of marine biodiversity in the world, USA Today reports. However, the country is also the second-largest contributor to marine plastic, with China taking the top spot.
USA Today reports that Hofman's friend first spotted the seahorse clinging to a piece of seaweed. He began to snap pictures.
"When the tide came in, the debris came in with it, and the seahorse hopped from the seaweed to a little piece of plastic and then a Q-tip," Hofman said.
He claims his "blood was boiling" when he saw the plastic in the water, but he continued to take photos.
Hofman noted that Indonesia is not the only place with plastic in the ocean, and that many Indonesian locals do not like the plastic but have few resources to do anything about it. He said it is difficult to tell where the plastic could have come from due to the nature of ocean currents.
Hofman posted the photo on his Instagram account on Sept. 12.
"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 photo's caption. "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."
Hofman then implied that the photo has a deeper meaning:
"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?"
Some nations are already taking steps to tackle ocean debris. According to the Natural History Museum, Indonesia has pledged to reduce the amount of waste it puts into the ocean by 70 percent by 2025.
In Sept. 2017, UNEP put out press releases announcing that the Maldives and Canada had joined its CleanSeas campaign, which works with the public, governments and private-sector businesses to reduce plastic use and waste.
Thus far, 29 countries have joined the campaign, with Canada -- which has the longest coastline in the world -- becoming the most recent country to join the pact on Sept. 11.
Sources: USA Today, Natural History Museum, UNEP (2), Justin Hofman/Instagram / Featured Image: Drow male/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Image: Justin Hofman via Natural History Museum, Ben Mierement/NOAA