One of the most eye-catching images this year is an underwater photo by Justin Hofman of the USA entitled Sewage Surfer, a finalist in the Wildlife Photo-journalist Award: Single Image category.

Hofman has described how he watched in delight as the tiny estuary seahorse “almost hopped” from one bit of bouncing natural debris to the next near Sumbawa Island, Indonesia, bobbing around near the surface on a reef. 

But as the tide started to come in, the mood changed. The water contained more and more decidedly unnatural objects – mainly bits of plastic – and a film of sewage sludge covered the surface, all sluicing towards the shore. 

The seahorse let go of a piece of seagrass and seized a long piece of clear plastic. As a brisk wind at the surface picked up, making conditions bumpier, it took advantage of something that offered a more stable raft – a waterlogged plastic cottonbud. 

Not having a macro lens for the shot ended up being lucky, both because of the strengthening current and because it meant that Hofman decided to frame the whole scene, sewage bits and all.

As he, the seahorse and the cottonbud spun through the ocean together, waves splashed into his snorkel. The next day, he fell ill. 

Indonesia has the world’s highest levels of marine biodiversity but is second only to China as a contributor to marine plastic debris – debris forecast to outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050.

Indonesia has pledged to reduce by 70% the amount of waste it discharges into the ocean.

Overall winners of the competition are selected on the basis of creativity, originality and technical excellence, and named on 17 October.

The exhibition opens at the museum on the 20th and continues until next spring, and the images will also embark on a UK and international tour. 

The 2018 competition is open for entries from 23 October to 14 December this year – to book tickets or to enter the next contest, go here

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