Plastic whale: an amazing marine debris art project!

As I have mentioned before, I think that the union of science and art can be a powerful tool to make both more approachable. For example, I am not much of an artist, but I love documenting science and nature with art – whether its drawing a dissection specimen in inverts class or enjoying a sunset while capturing it with a photo or painting. On the other hand for the more artistically and less scientifically inclined, art can help make science more approachable.

Last night while browsing through my many emails from marine education and ecology listserves, I came across an awesome project that spoke my interests in the union of science and art.

Over on the west coast, in the town of Olympia, Thurston Solid Waste company united over 900 youth and community members who worked together to spread the word about the threats of marine debris by cleaning up this debris and using it to create an educational work of art.

The elementary school students and other community members created a life-size grey whale parade float, completely out of plastic bags, styrofoam and other non-recyclable materials. One side of the whale displayed a map of the Pacific Ocean, complete with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling trash filled gyre 2 times the size of Texas. On the other side, the whales skeleton exposed a stomach filled with trash. The float, featured in an annual parade was based on an actual grey whale that washed up in 2010 in Puget Sound with over 30 plastic bags in its stomach.

This project combined science, art, outreach and environmental stewardship to convey an important message about the threat of marine debris. Using art to get citizens involved in science and conservation is an excellent way to overcome the misconception that these topics are too complex or depressing. Check out the video to learn more about this neat project:

Here in Nahant we have also been using art to send a message about marine debris. At an event a couple months ago put on my the local group 01908, the Outreach Program and Nahant residents participated in a local beach clean up event to celebrate Earth Day. We used the debris to create a sculpture with the help of all the citizens of Nahant who participated in the event and we donated the sculpture to the Johnson Elementary School. Many of the students participated in the event, so the sculpture serves as a reminder of the hard work they did to keep their ocean clean.

As we constructed the sculpture, I noticed something peculiar. First a little background: about 10 months ago, I was kayaking near the MSC and my glasses fell off my face and into the ocean, never to be seen again…or so I thought. Then on the day of the event, I looked away for a moment, and when I looked back there were my old glasses! Glued onto the sculpture!

Carole (the Outreach Coordinator) said that she had found them in the wrack like on Canoe Beach! I was so astonished that through all our winter storms they had not got washed out to sea, but instead hung around Canoe Beach Cove for nearly a year! The best part was a couple weeks later, when we brought some sea creatures to the elementary school for a lesson, one girl recognized me as the one whose glasses were on the sculpture. Apparently I am a Nahant marine debris celebrity. I’ll take it.

My lost and found glasses! Now part of the marine debris sculpture!
My lost and found glasses! Now part of the marine debris sculpture!

While we are already incorporating art in our conservation outreach here in Nahant, I think we can learn from larger projects like the plastic whale. Perhaps a marine debris float for the next Nahant Holiday Parade is in order!


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