Photo of seahorse dragging a mask wins award, reveals troubling pollution reality

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A photo of a seahorse dragging a face mask that won an Ocean Photography Award this year reveals a troubling reality of how human-induced pollution is impacting the underwater world.

Greek photographer Nicholas Samaras captured the image in the waters of Stratoni Halkidikis in northern Greece, about 90 minutes from Thessaloniki.

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His image was selected from a pool of 3,500 others, submitted under the category ‘Conservation Photographer of the Year’ in the competition which required photographers to capture the challenges the earth was facing.

In a Facebook post, Samaras said that he captured the photo during one of his “regular dives with the intent to photograph the rich biodiversity of the seabed of the northern Aegean” when he “noticed a mask floating in the background.”

“Out of curiosity, I went closer and then I understood. A rare seahorse had caught the elastic band of the mask in its tail and was struggling to swim. After I photographed him, I released him safely…. Unfortunately, the biggest problem on the planet is not climate change. Our own actions are to blame,” he said.

“I was shocked and disappointed with the image, but I had to maintain my composure to elicit the shot. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have seen dozens of discarded masks and plastic gloves floating in the sea,” he added, in a bid to raise awareness of the extent of the pollution caused by humankind.

Also on Facebook, Samaras went on to explain that Greek seahorses could only be found in Stratoni, the area where he captured the award-winning photo.

“At the bottom of this area of Stratoni is the only known colony of seahorses in Greece,” he said. “People should know that. Despite this peculiarity, despite the fact that it is a place that needs protection, it is also a place that is under attack, from fishing, from the mines and finally from COVID-19.”

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