In 2017, photographer Justin Hoffman took a photo of a sea horse carrying a cotton bud that became a famous portrayal of humanity's unnatural impact on nature.
Hoffman later said that, due to what it represented, he wished the photo didn't exist, despite it earning him accolades and wildlife photography awards.
Now, photographer Karen Mason has revealed two new nature photographs that we can all collectively say we wished didn't exist.
Mason's photographs, posted on Facebook, show a parent bird feeding its chick a cigarette butt. It has led to thousands voicing their anger online at careless smokers.
Mason posted the following text with the images:
"This Skimmer chick was offered a cigarette butt by it’s parent. It’s time we cleaned up our beaches and stopped treating them like one giant ash tray. #nobuttsforbabies"
Commenters widely backed up Mason's request, saying the photos were "terrible" and "heartbreaking."
Under our noses
The comment sections of Mason's Facebook photos have been filled with requests from the media asking if they can use her images. She replied to one publication by saying, “whatever helps to get people to think before they toss.”
The images have encouraged a wide discussion online about the way that cigarette butt litter is to a degree normalized, meaning its widespread negative impact goes largely unperceived.
“Tobacco butts are so ubiquitous that most of us have become blind to them,” Rachel Kippen, of the Santa Cruz County Tobacco Education Coalition, told The Independent.
And yet, “there are 4.5 trillion of them littering our streets, parks and beaches around the globe," she says.
In 2017, the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup operation picked up 2,412,151 cigarette butts (203,474 in California alone). Cigarette butts account for the highest litter count of any of the objects picked up by the organization.
Conservationists and countless other people worldwide are hoping that Mason's post can help to lend more awareness to the devastating impact cigarette butts, and litter in general, are having on our nature.