Sewage Surfer

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 01 Jul 2018 12:12:11


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 sea horse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage. This sea horse drifts long with the trash day in and day out as it rides the currents that flow along the Indonesian archipelago. This photo serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans. What sort of future are we creating? How can your actions shape our planet?”


W ith a lifelong passion for the ocean, Justin Hofman, Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017, has spent his career observing and documenting wildlife both above and below water. As a university student, Justin first honed this focus by obtaining a Marine Biology degree, and continued this pursuit in his post-graduate scientific illustration study. More recently, Justin has travelled extensively aboard expedition ships as a naturalist, photographer, and dive master. Justin utilises his extensive knowledge of ecology, conservation and animal behaviors to enhance others’ travel experiences, and create his own unique illustrations and photography. In this role, he’s worked aside some of the most preeminent wildlife photographers. Justin’s influences are both diverse and deeply rooted, and his knowledge of various photographic techniques and styles resonate in his work. In addition to his photography focus, Justin’s scientific illustrations have been featured in several US collegiate textbooks to date. From white sharks in Africa to Sierra Nevada caves, Justin has travelled to every continent in search of wildlife. He has extensive experience in Polar Regions where he has explored the wonders of Arctic and Antarctic. Currently splitting his time between expedition ships, wildlife photography and illustration, Justin most enjoys when these distinct disciplines converge to help inspire others to care about the planet. The photographer and naturalist in this interview talks about his work and more...

Justin Hofman details the troubling image of the seahorse with an ear bud was taken: “We were snorkelling off the island of Sumbawa. After a short time the tide started to turn, and with it came this delightful little sea horse spotted by legendary wildlife spotter (and fellow EYOS Expedition Leader) Richard White. At first, the sea horse was on its own, but then some sea grass came into the area. The tiny fish would move from one blade of sea grass to the next. Eventually larger pieces of debris drifted over the reef and with it came trash and pollutants. The sea horse grabbed onto a wispy piece of plastic, which actually made for a better photo, for a short while before deciding on this water-logged cotton swab. It was the most important wildlife scene I’ve ever documented and one that I had hoped would resonate with people.”

Tell us about EYOS Expeditions and what you do with the group, how you got involved? EYOS Expeditions specialises in small, exclusive trips to the most remote places on Earth utilising world-class expeditionstyle yachts. We help owners and clients take their yachts to places like Antarctica, the Southern Line Islands, and the Northwest Passage.

The collective experience at EYOS Expeditions allows us to thrive in places where there may be no local knowledge. Working as an expedition leader or naturalist, I am able to share my passion and enthusiasm for the natural world by shaping a trip to meet their needs in an interesting and safe manner. As a lover of nature, my whole reason for being out on these expeditions is to inspire people to care about the natural world.

I can’t think of a better way to do that then to immerse yourself in wilderness while also enjoying the comforts of modern super and mega yachts. I really have the best job in the world because I get to explore the most extreme environments by day and enjoy a nice meal with great company every night. Your incredible shot of the tiny seahorse with a cotton bud was a Wildlife Photographer of the Year finalist.

How did that come about? What was the expedition you were on? The seahorse shot was taken in Indonesia at the tail end of an expedition which mostly focused on east Borneo. We had reached the very end of the expedition and while clients were off viewing the water buffalo races which make Sumbawa famous, a few of us decided to check out the local reef.

We knew it would not be great due to the proximity to the village, but it was hot and I really am a water person at heart, so a day snorkeling is always appreciated. Eventually, the infamous scene we all recognise came before me and while I was taking the photos I knew this shot needed to be seen by as many people as possible.

It sounds silly, but I instantly knew that this shot would do well in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. A single shot wasn’t enough to make a story, so I needed the best venue possible for a single image, and WPY is that venue. No other competition is as respected or as widely shared as WPY, and I knew this image had a chance. I did not share it on social media for an entire year as the judging process went through its stages. The only people that knew about this image were a handful of friends whom I swore to secrecy.

This image and the story behind it was too important for my social media, it needed to be seen by the world, so I waited and luckily it was accepted into WPY and the whole world seemed to react to the photo. It far exceeded my expectations. Sea pollution, plastics in the ocean, you got sick right after the photo was taken... what can be done in your view about this terrible modern plague to the seas and how can groups like EYOS Expeditions or super yachts help to prevent it? It’s really twofold: a cultural shift needs to take place where nature is revered rather than exploited and there must also be an easy, efficient way for the public to handle their waste.

All of these major conservation issues are really social issues. If we look at the largest contributors of plastic pollution in the world (China, Indonesia, India) all of them have expanding lower and middle classes and are racing to meet the modern world on its terms. Infrastructure is racing to meet the demands of a growing population and part of that is waste management. If the developing world is to contribute positively then there must be a change in the way they regard the natural world. Unlike first world nations which got to do one then the other, the developing world is being forced to modernise and limit their environmental impact at the same time.

It's important to remember that things were not always clean in the US or Western Europe, but we have had several decades to clean up our act. As for changing our attitudes towards nature, an important way to do this is through the arts and through media. Photography, documentaries, journalism, writing, and fine art all have a way of transcending cultural barriers to impact millions of people. Inspiration is a crucial tool when trying to change hearts and minds.

I am particularly interested in finding ways for yacht owners to contribute to conservation initiatives by donating their yacht's time towards meaningful projects. There are super yachts operating all over the world with highly experienced captains and crews that could aid in documentary film making, photojournalism, and science. I want to see more yachts being used to tell stories and I think the success of productions like Blue Planet II has opened up the door to this possibility