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This colorful parrot fish is one of 17 giant sculptures made of trash found in the ocean that are on view at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Keith Lane for The Washington Post via Getty Images.
This detail of Priscilla the Parrot Fish shows how it is made from plastic items left on the beach, like part of a toy car, a sand shovel, and a comb.
Keith Lane for The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Plastic bags float by a sea turtle in the ocean.
Pierre Huguet/Biosphoto/Minden Pictures.
In this sculpture, Octavia, a 9-foot octopus, plays with pieces of garbage.
Keith Lane for The Washington Post via Getty Images.
Turning Trash Into Art
An artist turns trash from the ocean into impressive sculptures.

By Jennifer Marino Walters

A sea turtle named Herman, an octopus called Octavia, and a seal named Lidia all spent this summer at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. But unlike the zoo’s other residents, they are not real animals. These creatures are actually huge sculptures—and they’re made entirely out of plastic trash from the ocean.

These giant artworks, along with 14 others, are part of a traveling exhibit called “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.” The Washed Ashore project, led by artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, works to raise awareness about the problem of plastic pollution in Earth’s oceans.

“[Our goal is] to . . . educate a world audience about how plastic pollution is posing a dangerous . . . threat to the world’s ocean and sea life,” Pozzi says.

PLASTIC PROBLEMS

More than 315 billion pounds of plastic litter the world’s oceans today, according to the National Zoo. Most of this plastic is garbage from towns and cities, as well as trash that people leave on beaches. Rainwater, winds, and high tides bring the trash into the ocean or into rivers that lead to the ocean. Once it is under the waves, the plastic begins to break up into smaller and smaller pieces. It often collects in spots called garbage patches, which spread over large areas of the ocean.

Thousands of marine (having to do with the ocean) animals—including whales, sea turtles, and fish—die each year from eating or getting tangled in plastic bags and other items. Plastic pieces can also injure coral and kill sea grass. Each year, millions more pounds of plastic end up in the ocean. A recent study by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that if that continues, by 2050 the total weight of plastic in the ocean will be more than the combined weight of all the fish in the ocean.

CREATIVE CLEANUP

Washed Ashore and other organizations are working to stop that from happening. Since 2010, Washed Ashore volunteers have collected 38,000 pounds of plastic trash from more than 300 miles of beaches. They helped Pozzi create more than 60 sculptures of marine creatures that are harmed by plastic pollution.

The artworks on display at the National Zoo include a 20-foot-long coral reef, a 12-foot-long shark, and a 16-foot-long parrot fish. Each one is made from hundreds of pieces of trash like water bottles, flip-flops, and sunglasses. The sculpture of an Atlantic blue marlin, a fish, even includes a toilet seat.

“These sculptures are a powerful reminder of our personal role and global responsibility in preserving . . . biodiversity [a wide variety of species living in an area] on land and in the sea,” says Dennis Kelly, director of the National Zoo.

The “Washed Ashore” exhibit will be at the National Zoo through September 5. It will open next at the Denver Zoo in Colorado on September 24.