These stunning mermaid photos may change how you look at plastic.

Photographer Benjamin Von Wong is determined to make people care about plastic pollution, but he knew he needed to make a big splash to get their attention.

"All I knew was that plastic pollution was a boring topic and I had to find a way to make it more interesting," he explained on his blog.

Inspired by the knowledge that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, Von Wong came up with an ingenious idea: He'd create a sea of plastic.


Things fell into place quickly after that. A waste management center let him borrow 10,000 plastic bottles. A friend let him coordinate the shoot in his warehouse. A "small army" showed up to help clean the bottles.  

Photos showing thousands of plastic bottles were interesting, sure, but Von Wong knew the shoot needed "something unique and beautiful to truly stand out."

What he needed ... was a mermaid.

Photo via Benjamin Von Wong, used with permission.

Thankfully, he didn't have to go far to find one. His mother knew of a local artist named Cynthia Brault of Cyntault Créations who made silicone tails, among other things. Once she heard about the project, she offered to make a custom one for the shoot.

Photo via Benjamin Von Wong, used with permission.

As for the mermaid herself? Thanks to the magic of hair and makeup, model Clara Cloutier transformed into a living, breathing half-fish, half-human friend-of-Ariel.

Photo via Benjamin Von Wong, used with permission.

"Alone, I was just a photographer — but thanks to the help of amazing individuals we transformed a lifeless pile of used garbage into a message: #MermaidsHatePlastic," Von Wong explained.

Photo via Benjamin Von Wong, used with permission.

The photos are stunning, but Von Wong is hoping to do more than produce a few gorgeous images.

He wants to create a sea change in the way people use plastic, which is why he's encouraging people to take a pledge to reduce the amount of plastic they use.

Photo via Benjamin Von Wong, used with permission.

‌If we don't take action, our plastic waste will continue to be found in places it shouldn't — and not just on beaches either. Plastic has turned up "in the stomachs of more than half the world’s sea turtles and nearly all of its marine birds."

The good news is that people are finding simple and innovative ways to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean.

But it'll take more than one photographer, 10,000 plastic bottles, and a mermaid to combat plastic pollution.

We're all going to have to change the way we look at the plastic we use. Sharing these photos is a good place to start.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.