It is impossible to understate the role of photography in sparking activism for a cause. A glance back at some of the most iconic photos in history have made it clear that a single photograph can open hearts, change minds, create shifts in culture and even inspire new laws.

This simple fact is the driving force behind conservation photography, a genre of nature photography whose purpose is to show people what this planet has to offer, and the ways in which it is at risk. It is also the driving force behind SeaLegacy, an organization dedicated to marine conservation, founded by two of the most influential conservation photographers of our time.

Cristina Mittermeier is an award-winning photographer who documents indigenous cultures around the world, many of which are under as much risk of disappearing as the most famous of endangered species. She founded the International League of Conservation Photographers, which helped turn conservation photography from a nebulous idea, or side-effect of nature photography, into a serious and respected genre of its own. Paul Nicklen is a renowned National Geographic photographer who focuses on the polar regions of our melting planet, and has produced over 20 stories for the famous magazine. This duo knows first hand the power of photography to ignite change, and is using that power to bring attention to the plight of our planet's oceans.

“Organizations dedicated to marine conservation have lots of valuable data but often lack the communications skills and visual assets to engage the media, governments and the public at large,” says Mittermeier. “By making high-quality visual materials available to organizations so that they can energize their campaigns, we will be more successful.”

The team has a specific way of measuring success, too. Currently only around 2 percent of the ocean is protected. SeaLegacy has a goal of seeing 20 percent of the ocean protected by 2020.

The new conservation organization is officially launching this week in Monaco at the opening of the BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit, and the launch includes an incredible photographic exhibition called "The Thin Blue Line." This gorgeous short video highlights images, and brings to the forefront why the world's oceans must be protected:

“The world needs to wake up to the dire situation facing our oceans and all its creatures,” says Nicklen. “Through a team of the most skilled photographers and filmmakers in the world, we will make sure the public at large, and especially politicians, are aware of the imperative to act swiftly and boldly if we want to maintain the ecological integrity of our oceans."

SeaLegacy is launching three weeks in advance of COP21, held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris. As world leaders meet to discuss solutions to our planet's most pressing environmental problems — including the state of our oceans — the team for SeaLegacy will be working to tell the stories of these problems visually, because as the team says, "Producing powerful imagery that inspires people to care is imperative. Hope is empowerment. Hope is a solution. Hope is a game changer."

“Enoughness” Morondava, Madagascar The Vezo people are a semi-nomadic coastal people that make a living off the marine and coastal resources of southwestern Madagascar. Although they lack much in terms of material possessions, the bounty of the sea provid“Enoughness” Morondava, Madagascar The Vezo people are a semi-nomadic coastal people who make a living off the marine and coastal resources of southwestern Madagascar. Although they lack much in terms of material possessions, the bounty of the sea provides enough food to maintain their existence. For most of us, eating fish is commonplace, however, for 1 billion of the poorest people in the world, it is their only source of protein. This is yet another important reason to work towards healthy oceans. (Photo: Cristina Mittermeier/ SeaLegacy)

Jaymi Heimbuch ( @jaymiheimbuch ) focuses on wildlife conservation and animal news from her home base in San Francisco.