There is a lot of trash in the ocean, and the problem is getting steadily worse. Some estimates suggest more than 1 billion pounds of debris enters the ocean every year. This debris can cause all kinds of problems for marine life and marine ecosystems—from wildlife entanglement to habitat destruction. So what can we do about it?
While we can't go back in time and prevent trash from making its way into the ocean, we can prevent more debris from ending up there! Reducing, reusing, and recycling matters; you and your family CAN make a difference by creating less waste every day.
Plastic is an especially nasty type of marine debris, because it doesn’t break down as easily or naturally as other types of waste. Plastic trash is the focus of one outstanding effort to not only clean up our beaches but also reuse discarded items in a way that spreads awareness about the problem. The effort is called Washed Ashore, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating aesthetically powerful art that educates audiences about plastic pollution in Earth's oceans.
Washed Ashore's art typically takes the form of larger-than-life sculptures of sea creatures. The organization brings its dynamic conservation message to the public through its traveling art exhibits and accompanying educational programs. Sculptures are currently on display in places like the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, the Science Museum of Virginia, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
The first step in Washed Ashore's creative process is collecting trash from beaches with the help of volunteers and communities. The collected debris is then washed and sorted by color. Washed Ashore says it uses 95% of the trash it collects, and since plastic comes in every color of the rainbow, the artists never need to use paint.
A professional artist then works with volunteers, students, and Washed Ashore team members to design and create a unique piece of art. Each piece is made entirely of trash! This means that rather than adding to the problem, water bottles, bottle caps, beach toys, and all kinds of other debris are repurposed to subtract from the problem by inspiring positive change in consumer behavior.
While there are a lot of negative headlines about the state of our oceans, in the spirit of World Oceans Day this past week, we hope projects like Washed Ashore's "art to save the sea" bring you a dose of much-needed #OceanOptimism. The problem is real, and the problem is big, but that doesn't mean we should give up. Far from it! Let's all do our part to reduce the amount of waste we create, clean up our parks, beaches, and neighborhoods, and teach the next generation that there is hope for our oceans.