The Story Behind that Viral Seahorse Photo

By Emily DiFrisco

By now you've seen it. That viral photo--taken by photographer and naturalist Justin Hofman--depicts a seahorse in the ocean near Sumbawa Island, Indonesia, clinging to a bright pink plastic cotton swab. 

The photo has been shared tens of the thousands of times across social media channels and has been featured in new outlets from across the globe such as Business Insider, USA Today, ABC Online, The Atlantic, The Guardian and more. 

PPC spoke with Hofman to hear more about how he captured the photo and why the photo has resonated so deeply with people all over the world. 

Hofman shot the photo nine months ago while snorkeling with a group near Sumbawa Island, Indonesia. At first, he observed that the reef was in "pretty good shape," but as the tide changed, debris such as bags, plastic ties, and even sewage started to roll in. Those white dots in the photo? They're pieces of plastic bags. He spotted the seahorse, who, when the wind picked up, clung to a waterlogged plastic swab. 

Photo by Justin Hofman/Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2017

Photo by Justin Hofman/Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2017

Hofman entered the photo into London's Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, and waited. Until last week, when his photo was selected, he had only showed the photo to people in person.

"Seahorses are universally adored," says Hofman of the shot. "When people look at the photo they have this switch of emotions from 'happy, cute seahorse' to devastated because of what humans are doing to the planet. Visually, the photo is easy to read. It speaks across demographics."

As a lifelong adventurer and advocate for wildlife, Hofman has led expeditions all over the world and has observed plastic pollution in even the most remote locations. With groups small and large, he brings these topics up whenever possible. "I'm very concerned about climate change, our dependency on fossil fuels, and polymers in the food web," he explains. "At the end of the day, I want people to care about the planet."

View Hofman's photo "Sewage Surfer' at the Natural History Museum of London beginning Oct. 20.

Follow Hofman on Instagram here. 

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