While snorkeling off the coast of an island south of Borneo, in Indonesia, wildlife photographer Justin Hofman captured an image that perfectly portrays the destruction mankind is wreaking on the environment.

At first, Hofman was elated to see an orange seahorse drifting in the tide. Shortly after, however, the experience turned into a nightmare. With the tide, a wave of debris and waste suddenly swept past Hofman and the little seahorse. It had no hope of escaping, as The Dodo reports. “It was literally sewage; you could smell the water change. It was disgusting,” said Hofman. “Eventually, this little scene unfolded in front of me.”

Credit: Wildlife photographer Justin Hofman

Amidst the floating litter, the seahorse began to move from one piece of debris to the next. Eventually, it clung to a plastic cotton swap that had swept into its natural habitat. “To see this little seahorse — it’s heartbreaking,” Hofman said. The wildlife photographer later wrote on Instagram:

“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 seahorse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage.”

The powerful image resulted in Hofman being selected as a finalist in London National History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Hofman isn’t concerned with celebrating his talent, however; what he wants most is for millions of people to see the image so they are inspired to invest in sustainable change.

“I hope it helps people think about what they consume, choosing things that are paper instead of plastic,” he said. “People might look at the picture and think, ‘We’re doomed.’ But if every person did their part, it would add up to a huge impact. We can all not let our trash go down the drain. We can all put things in a trash bin and recycle. It’s easy.”

The Reality of Ocean Pollution

Ocean pollution is a more serious crisis than most realize. As a result of unsustainable human activity, plastic is now the most common element found in the oceans. The number one source of pollution comes from land-based sources, including oil, dirt, septic tanks, farms, motor vehicles and agriculture run-off. Of course, thousands of waste of trash continues to be dumped into landfills each day — 80% of which ends up in the ocean.

While humans seem to be relatively unaffected by unsustainable habits (though some would argue recent hurricanes have been exacerbated by the phenomena), wildlife is already suffering. Conserve-Energy Future reports that over one million seabirds are killed each year by ocean pollution. Additionally, 300,000 dolphins and porpoises die each year as a result of becoming entangled in debris, such as fishing nets and plastic containers. In total, 100,000 sea mammals are killed in the ocean by pollution each year.

Humanity is the cause of this reality but can also be the solution. If the collective invests in renewable resources, reduces the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere, re-uses and recycles instead of buying disposable products and dumping them into landfills, and begins growing more organic, nutrient-dense foods in community gardens, the Earth and future generations will ultimately benefit.

h/t The Dodo