By Kim Hambright, assistant editor, The Fourth River
Have you ever meandered along a sandy beach in the early morning looking for conch shells or weathered bits of sea glass? The salt air intoxicates you, and it’s not unusual to find yourself humming along to a seagull’s call as you investigate the shoreline. More likely than not, the items you find are not washed-up mermaid treasures but plastic bottle caps, discarded fishing lines, and broken ink pens. Of the 300 million pounds of plastic waste produced globally each year, less than ten percent of it gets recycled, and there are only a finite number of places for it to go.
The Washed Ashore Project is a non-profit organization created by the Artula Institute for Arts and Environmental Education whose mission is to create an atmosphere of marine awareness through art. Under the leadership of Angela Haseltine Pozzi, community members organize beach clean-ups and repurpose the collected trash into larger than life aquatic sculptures. Ninety percent of the debris they collect is petroleum based—often plastics, nylon, and netting—of which they are able to repurpose ninety-eight percent. Volunteers are encouraged to participate in this process by dropping off beach debris at the Artula Institute for Arts and Environmental Education in Bandon, Oregon or by donating their time to the labor-intensive process of rinsing, scrubbing, and sorting the plastics.
Luckily for residents outside of Oregon, the Washed Ashore sculptures travel to different venues all over the United States. The exhibitions have been held previously at SeaWorld parks and select aquariums, and they are forthcoming at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park and Denver Zoo, among others. If you aren’t able to visit an exhibition in person, you can still make a difference. By looking more closely at what things we throw away and how we dispose of them, each of us can affect positive change. Even something as simple as picking up the trash along your morning walk can have a huge impact on the animals and natural habitats in your area. For more information, visit the website for the Washed Ashore Project at washedashore.org.