News

Tragedy of picture that ‘shouldn’t exist’

by
June 01, 2018

To ride currents, seahorses clutch drifting seagrass or other natural debris. In the polluted waters off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa. this seahorse latched onto a plastic cotton swab - "a photo I wish didn't exist" says photographer Justin Hofman.

An old plastic fishing net snares a loggerhead turtle in the Mediterranean off Spain to breath but would have died had the photographer not freed it. 'Ghost fishing' by derelict gear is a big threat to sea turtles.

It’s a photograph Justin Hofman wishes didn’t exist — a seahorse latched onto a plastic cotton bud captured off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa.

The 34-year-old dreams of a world where animals, under the water and above it, are not threatened by pollution.

But that world is a long way away from reality which is why Mr Hofman is grateful his image can tell a story so many of us, too many, need to see and hear.

The photo has been seen by tens of millions of people and has been published in about 20 different countries.

Naturally, seahorses clutched onto drifting seagrass or other natural debris so to see it holding onto a cotton bud was confronting, Mr Hofman said.

‘‘If I come across this randomly, by happenstance, it must be happening all over the world, all the time,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m glad that it exists so people can see it so they can make a change and help push people in a certain direction.

‘‘Regardless, it’s still happening right now. People can do all the likes (on social media) and write all the comments they want — but they have to change what they are doing at home if they want to make a difference.

‘‘You can have a positive or negative impact on the ocean and it’s up to you which way it goes.

‘‘And even if you live inland, your actions do affect what happens in the ocean and we need the oceans for our health ... people need to understand their actions have ramifications.’’

Mr Hofman took the photo at the end of November, 2016 but it wasn’t released to the world until September, 2017.

‘‘I was feeling mixed emotions. I knew I had a powerful image but I didn’t know it would make this much of an impact,’’ he said.

‘‘But it was also a really depressing scene to come across.

‘‘When I took the photo I knew it was a powerful photo so I entered it into a competition. If it is accepted into that there is an embargo until they release it.

‘‘Submitting it to them was going to potentially give it to the biggest audience.’’

Mr Hofman was in the middle of an expedition travelling the east coast of Borneo.

‘‘We were island-hopping, most of the clients had gone to shore to see a cultural show,’’ he said.

‘‘A few of the folks wanted to go snorkelling. I told them it wouldn’t be great because it’s too close to a village and, lo and behold, it wasn’t.

‘‘The reef we were on was in decent shape but there were almost no big fish.

‘‘It started out fine but then the tide switched and started to blow in debris, a bunch of sewage and trash.

‘‘It started off nice and pleasant and then it became very unpleasant. It started with grass and natural debris at the beginning of the flow and then pieces of plastic, plastic bags and this scene came before us.’’

Based in California, Mr Hofman was on an expedition in Alaska when he spoke to the Cobram Courier this week.

‘‘I’ve been talking about marine conservation for a long time, that’s my living,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve been doing that sort of work for about 10 years — educating people about marine issues and taking people on trips around the world.

‘‘This is just a photo that encapsulates the whole thing.’’

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