An estimated 315 billion pounds of plastic enters oceans each year. And in an effort to raise awareness around that problem, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has partnered with nonprofit Washed Ashore for a traveling educational exhibit entitled Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea. The exhibit, which is on view until September 2018, features 19 colorful and larger-than-life sculptures made entirely of marine debris collected from beaches along the Oregon shoreline.
“Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea has a great message that connects to Shedd’s conservation and sustainability initiatives,” says Jaclyn Wegner, director of conservation action at Shedd Aquarium. “Shedd has been working toward improving its sustainability and waste management efforts for many years, and one of our major efforts is reducing our use of plastics. We no longer use plastic bags in our gift shop, and we have stopped using plastic condiment containers in our cafes. We also launched our Shedd the Straw campaign this past Earth Day, which raises awareness about the impacts plastic straws have on the environment.”
In addition to those efforts, Shedd Aquarium hosts beach cleanups through its Great Lakes Action Days (GLAD) initiative. In the warmer months, groups clean up litter along the beaches, and in the cooler months, groups focus on habitat restoration.
The exhibit also encourages conservation by inspiring exhibit viewers to reduce, reuse, refuse, repurpose and recycle materials.
To help exhibit viewers understand how they can make a difference, the sculptures include the following suggested actions:
- Leave no trace. The next time you travel to the beach, river or any wilderness, leave only footprints and take only photographs, memories and trash home. Pack it in and pack it out.
- Plastics are forever. If plastic cannot be recycled, find a creative way to reuse or repurpose it and avoid adding to the waste stream. Just like the sculptures in this exhibit, you can repurpose discarded plastics.
- Every action counts. On your next visit to the ocean or local lake, river or stream, bring a bag or bucket for cleaning up. If you bring something to the beach, take it with you when you leave.
- Reduce your use. The best way of keeping plastic out of the ocean is reducing the amount of plastic we produce on land. Reduce your use of single-use plastics by carrying a reusable water bottle or bringing a reusable bag.
Currently, 10 sculptures are on view at Shedd Aquarium. Six more will be added in November, and the final three will be added in spring 2018.
“Plastic surrounds us, and you are likely sitting on or wearing plastic right now,” says Wegner. “And while we cannot eliminate the use of plastic altogether, we can be mindful of how we utilize it and manage it.”
In this gallery, you can view a selection of sculptures from the exhibit.