May I have this dance? Photographer Shawn Heinrichs photographs models swimming alongside endangered ocean-dwellers, an effort to raise awareness and hopefully save their lives. 

Shawn fell in love with the ocean and its denizens after he took up scuba diving 20 years ago, a passion that led him to marine habitats all over the world. But as he traveled from sea to sea, he quickly began to realize that not everything underwater is rosy. Particularly, he was struck by the plight of the whale shark and the manta ray, two endangered species — one targeted for its fins and the other oft-mistaken for a stingray, a deadly lookalike.

Shawn took up photography (and film-making) in hopes to connect people with these animals most never see face-to-face. As he says in his talk at TEDxBoulder:

Art is such an essential tool in halting the destruction of these threatened species. By connecting people with the beauty and vulnerability of these animals, we ignite a new level of curiosity and passion for them.

Because, ultimately, it is the human connection that is central to conservation. Without it, our efforts will ultimately falter, but by harnessing it, we can change the world.

Above, photos from his work with manta rays and whale sharks showing the potential for real connection between human and animal. For more information on his work and conservation efforts, watch his entire talk here.