Pho­tog­ra­pher wishes stun­ning pic­ture ‘didn’t ex­ist’

The Prince George Citizen - - SCIENCE - Lind­sey BEVER The Wash­ing­ton Post

The pow­er­ful and poignant im­age shows a tiny sea horse hold­ing tightly onto a pink, plas­tic cot­ton swab in blue-green wa­ters around In­done­sia.

Cal­i­for­nia na­ture pho­tog­ra­pher Justin Hof­man snapped the pic­ture late last year off the coast of Sum­bawa, an In­done­sian is­land in the Lesser Sunda Islands chain. The 33-yearold, from Mon­terey, Calif., said a col­league pointed out the pocket-sized sea crea­ture, which he es­ti­mated to be about four cen­time­tres tall — so small, in fact, that Hof­man said he al­most didn’t reach for his cam­era.

“The wind started to pick up and the sea horse started to drift. It first grabbed onto a piece of sea grass,” Hof­man said Thurs­day in a phone in­ter­view. Hof­man started shoot­ing. “Even­tu­ally more and more trash and de­bris started to move through,” he said, adding that the crit­ter lost its grip, then latched onto a white, wispy piece of a plas­tic bag. “The next thing it grabbed was a Q-Tip.”

Hof­man said he wishes the pic­ture “didn’t ex­ist” – but it does; and now, he said, he feels re­spon­si­ble “to make sure it gets to as many eyes as pos­si­ble.” He en­tered the photo and was a fi­nal­ist in the Wildlife Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year com­pe­ti­tion from the Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum in Lon­don.

“I want ev­ery­body to see it,” he added. “I want ev­ery­body to have a re­ac­tion to it.”

Hof­man, an ex­pe­di­tion leader with EYOS Ex­pe­di­tions, said he was wrap­ping up an ex­pe­di­tion in De­cem­ber 2016 when he pho­tographed the sea horse. As he watched, he said his “blood was boil­ing.”

Hof­man said the garbage had washed in, pol­lut­ing their spot in the sea with sewage that he said he could smell and taste, and that the sea horse was search­ing for a raft on which to ride it out.

“I had this beau­ti­ful, lit­tle tiny crea­ture that was so cute, and it was al­most like we were brought back to re­al­ity – that this is some­thing that hap­pens to the sea horse day in and day out,” he said. A small sea horse grabs onto garbage off the coast of In­done­sia.

JUSTIN HOF­MAN/WILDLIFE PHO­TOG­RA­PHER OF THE YEAR

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