Novel Way to Recycle Marine Debris and Educate the Public

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes marine debris as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or Great Lakes. It is a global problem that threatens our oceans, Great Lakes, and waterways and can affect navigation safety, the economy, and human health.

About 60%-80% of all marine debris is composed of plastic and Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance estimates that 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. Since plastic does not break down naturally, things that had a useful life of just a few minutes can pollute our oceans for hundreds of years. Although it is possible to recycle most types of plastics it is estimated that only about 25% of plastics are recycled worldwide.

In 2010, a non-profit organization that uses art to educate about environmental conservation, was started in Oregon and named the Washed Ashore Project. In the past six years, the group started by Haseltine Pozzi, an educator and artist, has collected about 18 tons of garbage from more than 300 miles of Oregon coastline and used it to create 60 + sculptures.

The Washed Ashore website explains that “they build and exhibit powerful art to educate a global audience about plastic pollution in oceans and waterways and spark positive changes in consumer habits.” Their sculptures are constructed from debris that washed up on the Oregon shore. Each of the sculptures represent sea life affected by plastic pollution. The art pieces are part of a national traveling exhibition that includes educational signage and programs that encourage reducing, refusing, reusing, repurposing and recycling.

The sculptures which include, a shark, a parrot fish, a sea lion pub and a jellyfish among others, have been exhibited across the country at places like the Smithsonian National Zoo, the U.S. State Department and the Denver Union Station. The exhibit will be visiting Mote Marine Laboratory from December 9, 2017, until June 2018. Greta the Great White Shark, Natasha the Turtle and other sculptures will be part of the exhibit, “Sea Debris: Awareness through Art.” These pieces range from 15 feet long and 10 feet wide to seven feet long and eight feet high. Mote hopes “these whimsical sculptures will fascinate and educate children, the young at heart and all those who seek creative solutions to environmental challenges.”

“As a leader in marine literacy, Mote is always seeking to display exhibits that not only entertain our guests, but also teach them how they can be good stewards of the ocean,” said Evan Barniskis, Assistant Vice President of Mote Aquarium. “’Sea Debris’ is a fun and creative way to start the conversation regarding an issue that is affecting all of the world’s oceans on a macro- and microscopic scale. It is our hope that this exhibit opens guests’ eyes, not just to the problem, but to the solutions regarding sea pollution.”

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