Polluted oceans are dangerous for marine life and humans. Unfortunately, too many people see pollution in the water and on our beaches simply as a gross side-effect of a day at the shore, and not enough people have actually registered the consequences this pollution has on the environment and ecosystems.
Artists around the world are using ocean pollution to create artwork that hopes to inspire change and action. Check out 17 pieces of ocean pollution art below.
7. One Beach Plastic by Richard & Judith Lang
Richard Lang and Judith Shelby Lang have been collecting plastic pollution on the shores of Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore, California, since 1999.
They take these plastic bits and curate beautiful, colorful works of art. Check out some more of their art here.
6. Natural Plasticity by Jana Cruder & Matthew LaPenta
California based artists Jana Cruder and Matthew LaPenta use post-consumer plastics to create larger-than-life, inflatable art sculptures.
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These 20-30 foot sculptures are representative of many single-use plastics people use every day like plastic water bottles, plastic coffee containers, and straws.
The large inflatable sculptures are installed in places that aren’t usually accustomed to art in order to grab and hold the viewers attention.
It’s hard to miss a 30 foot inflatable plastic water bottle on your walk into work! Check out more of their inspiring work by following them on Instagram or checking out their website.
5. Bristol Whales by Sue Lipscombe
“Bristol Whales” designed by Sue Lipscombe is an art installation that depicts a whale diving into a sea of plastic water bottles.
The whale was created by using locally grown willow and single use plastic water bottles collected from the Bristol 10k and Bath Half Marathon.
The piece begs the viewer to think about the threat of plastic pollution in our oceans and its effects on marine life. To learn more about this piece click here.
4. Washed Up by Alejandro Durán
Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape uses international debris that washes up on the Caribbean coast of Mexico.
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The installation and photography project, started by Alejandro Durán, has been able to identify plastic waste from fifty-eight nations that have ended up on Mexico’s coast.
The pieces are meant to shed light on the current environmental crisis and hopefully change our relationship with consumer and single-use plastic waste. To learn more about Alejandro’s project, visit alejandroduran.com.
3. Sea Globes by Max Liboiron
“Sea Globes” by Max Liboiron use plastics that come from the Hudson River in south Brooklyn and coal from a now shuddered landfill. The landfill is now submerged at high tide and closed in the 1930s.
The genuine sea globes (similar to a snow globe) are accurate representations of NYC waterfront environments, with sea life and plastic floating inside a glass mini world. Click here to learn more about this piece.
2. Evolución Tóxica by Alvaro Soler Arpa
Alvaro Soler Arpa’s project “Evolución Tóxica” imagines plastics impact on the evolution of animals. Arpa uses wire, animal bones, and plastic pollution to create fictional creatures.
These disturbing creatures engage a viewer to think about the planet’s current plastic pollution crisis and the actual impact it has on evolution.
Will we one day evolve to make use of the plastic molecules that will eventually become part of our DNA? Read more about this project here.
1. Washed Ashore by Various Artists
“Washed Ashore”, founded by Angela Haseltine Pozzi, is an educational nonprofit that creates are using garbage collected on the Oregon coast.
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The garbage collected is used to create larger than life sculptures of animals that are endangered due to the rise in ocean pollution.
So far, they have used 26 tons of garbage to create 70 sculptures that are on display across the country. To learn more about Washed Ashore, visit washedashore.org.
Why Is Ocean Pollution Such a Big Deal?
Ocean pollution is not just gross for beach-goers, but detrimental to marine life. Pollution that finds its way into the ocean can include liquids (such as oil, bleach, pesticides, etc), trash (especially plastics), and some even constitute carbon dioxide as a pollutant (as it acidifies the ocean and changes the ecosystem).
However, as most artists find it relatively difficult to work with oil and carbon dioxide, plastics and other trash are their main focus. And there is a LOT of plastic in the oceans to work with.
By 2050, scientists project that ocean plastic will outweigh all of the fish in the ocean. While this may seem surprising, shocking, or even flat out unbelievable, it is important to know that 17.6 billion pounds (or eight million metric tons) of plastic is released into the ocean every single year.
For perspective in ocean terms, 17.6 billion pounds is the same as 57,000 blue whales – the largest animal to have ever existed.
Ocean pollution does not just take up space, either. It has serious consequences on marine ecosystems.
Marine animals are constantly ingesting plastics that look like food: for example, plastic bags looks very similar to some jellyfish, which is a major food source of sea turtles.
This mistaking plastic for food can either cause animals to choke, or can lead to starvation as the plastic slowly fills their stomach.
Entanglement is also very common, as many marine creatures may not see that they are swimming into a plastic trap.
This can lead to suffocation if below the surface of the water, and it can make some animals easy prey to ocean predators.
If you don’t care much for sea creatures, remember that as trash washes up onto the shore it also affects animals of the land and sky.
In fact, studies show that 44% of seabirds either have ingested plastic or have plastic attached to them somehow.
Plastic in the ocean can also negatively affect humans. As sea animals consume plastics, they may absorb some of the chemicals of plastics into their body and bloodstream.
If humans eat these animals, they could be consuming the chemicals of plastic themselves. Plastic toxins have been linked to many diseases, including some cancers and birth defects.
Pollution Art: The Solution
Well, maybe not the solution, but it certainly helps the issue of ocean pollution! Not only does pollution art put plastics that washed up on the shore to good use, but it also helps educate viewers on just how much plastic is in the oceans.
What is Pollution Art?
Pollution art is usually artistic displays of plastics that are found on beaches: most displays resemble marine creatures that are affected by the plastic in the ocean.
Sometimes the models are situated on beaches, which creates a humbling effect for beachgoers and helps encourage people to not leave their trash behind when they leave.
Pollution Art Artists
There are a handful of known artists who create pollution art. The most famous artist is likely Angela Hasteline Pozzi, founder of the non-profit organization Washed Ashore.
The organization, which is based in Oregon, has collected and cleaned tons of plastic pollution from beaches with the goal of turning it into educational art.
Washed Ashore has displayed pollution art at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and at the Smithsonian National Zoo.
Displays are also planted outside, often overlooking beaches to ensure maximum effect. Other artists include Steve Mcpherson, Gilles Cenazandotti, Pam Longobardi, Alvaro Soler Arpa, and Tess Felix.
It is important to note that not all artists create large model displays of sea creatures. Some choose to make an impact through photography, humans models, and two-dimensional arrangements.
Famous Pollution Art Exhibits, Models, and Projects
While there are numerous artists who have participated in educating audiences about plastic pollution through art, there are a few exhibits and displays that are more well-known due to them doing an exceptional job impacting viewers.
One display known as “Vida Toxia” (translated Toxic Life) by artist Alvaro Soler Arpa is a series of fourteen sculptures made of plastic pollution and animal bones.
The combination of the two “art supplies” tends to shock viewers, and helps them to see the reality of the dangerous situation.
Pam Longobardi’s project, the Drifters Project, uses plastic that washes ashore in order to create models and art pieces.
She also uses photography to better spread the impact of her project to distant audiences. Washed Ashore has had many famous exhibits since it was founded.
One of them is “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea,” which features 17 “sculptures.” Another is “Turtle Ocean,” which shows a hawksbill turtle (which is an endangered species) swimming through a coral reef made of plastics.
Pollution art is more than just a cool way to reuse plastic: it is a way to educate audiences on the consequences plastic has on the marine ecosystem.
The goal of pollution art is usually to encourage audiences to think hard about their actions and twice before doing something irresponsible with their trash.
With so many artists and exhibits becoming popular in the media, pollution art may become a more common sight in the near future.
If you want to do something to help the oceanic environment or assist pollution art artists in their work, volunteering for beach cleanups is a great place to start: artists and organizations usually pick up the trash after cleanups are complete.