Against a background of a pristine aquamarine sea, a seahorse floats along with a face mask caught in its tail. This arresting — and disturbing — image, captured by Greek photographer and diver Nikos Samaras, has now been nominated for the “Ocean Photography 2021” award.
Samaras captured the image in the waters of Stratoni Halkidikis, on the scenic northern peninsula of Greece, about 90 minutes east of Thessaloniki.
Ocean Photography is a celebration of our beautiful blue planet and a platform to highlight the many challenges the earth is facing. Samaras’ image was selected from among 3,500 photos submitted to the competition in the category of “Conservation Photographer of the Year.”
The image is just another reminder of the damage that humankind inflicts on our planet.
Relating the story of how he came to capture this indelible image, Samaras stated in a Facebook post “During one of my regular dives with the intent to photograph the rich biodiversity of the seabed of the northern Aegean, I 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.”
Samaras went on to say “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.”
Greek Seahorses Live Only in Stratoni
Samaras captured the shot in August. As he explains, “At the bottom of this area of Stratoni is the only known colony of seahorses in Greece. 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.”
Samaras works mainly abroad normally. Having already traveled to Indonesia, the Maldives, the Bahamas and the Red Sea, he has more than 80 distinctions in international photography competitions and festivals. “I go quite often to the colony at Stratoni. I am writing a book about the colony and it is currently under development. I have been watching it for years and I want to convey everything I have seen,” the photographer states.
Protecting Seahorses and Their Environment
Protecting the environment is a part of Samaras’ dedication to the seas. He states on his website “It is in not a passion. It is a way of life.” For Samaras his work is not just a job. His innovative ideas have transformed him from a dedicated diver into a noted underwater photographer.
And with this image of the seahorse, he is urging greater care to protect the sea and the creatures who live within it.
Fortunately, there are now many others dedicated to fighting to preserve the seas by keeping them clean and pollution-free. Thirteen-year-old Zisis Vagousis has dedicated several years of his life already to cleaning coastal beaches, with his goal being to remove harmful plastic waste from the seabed.
All For Blue is a Greek non-profit organization with global actions whose mission is to protect the seas and oceans through education and experiential cleanup actions. Ocean conservation seminars that they sponsor aim to educate future generations about the balance of the marine ecosystem, to provide ways to avoid single use plastics and to tell the truth about what is really happening in the oceans.
Founder Katerina Topozoglou told Greek Reporter “With beach and underwater clean-ups, we instruct participants how to organize a cleanup, act as a team and raise awareness.”
Topozoglou said that although the lockdowns limited human interaction with the seascape in recent months, the amount of underwater trash is even worse than before.
She said the “Top 10” sea debris items now include facemasks and wet wipes, which rank at number eight. She adds that changing the way we view the seas requires more than just a tiny break from normal activity — it requires a mental shift from how humans have historically abused the waters of the world to being aware of how they can heal them.