One of the things we most enjoy about full-time travel is that we can explore a particular place without feeling the urgency to move on to the next attraction that we might experience on, say, a one-week vacation. Freed of that pressure, we move at a more relaxed pace, increasing our chances of a delightful and unexpected discovery.
That serendipity worked its magic today, when we stumbled upon what initially looked to be an unassuming art gallery in Old Town Bandon-by-the-Sea on the southern Oregon coast. Once inside, however, we realized that it was actually much more than that.
Huge sculptures filled the space, and when we looked at them closely, we realized that each of them was made from thousands of pieces of trash!
From a volunteer docent, we learned that the Washed Ashore Project builds and exhibits these powerful pieces to graphically illustrate the tragedy of plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways, in the hope of sparking positive changes in consumer habits. The organization collects trash that community volunteers remove from beaches. After they wash and sort it, a professional artist designs a sculpture and directs a group of Washed Ashore team members, volunteers and students in building it.
The Washed Ashore Project was the brainchild of Angela Haseltine Pozzi, who serves as the organization’s lead artist and executive director. She is not just an exhibiting artist, but also an art educator to students from elementary to college level. When she noticed the huge amount of plastic pollution on southern Oregon’s beaches, and then learned about the impact of discarded plastics on the ocean, she decided to get help from hundreds of local volunteers to clean up the beaches, and to use all the debris to construct massive sculptures of the sea animals most affected by the pollution.
These sculptures now tour around the country, traveling to exhibitions at prestigious venues such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC; the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago; the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport; and zoos in Denver, Houston and Washington, DC. But their “home base” is right here in Bandon.
The creative detail in these gigantic sculptures is amazing, especially when you consider that they are made entirely of found debris: bottle caps, plastic lighters, combs, shotgun shells, synthetic rope, detergent bottles, water bottles, flip-flops, aluminum cans, pop-top tabs, styrofoam blocks, and more. The docent even pointed out a plastic remote control on one of them!
The artists use no paint–if you see blue or green or silver or black or white in a sculpture, that’s the actual color of the trash used in that area.
Plastic pollution has spread to every ocean and marine habitat in the world, and has entered every level of the ocean food chain, from whales to plankton. Turtles, fish and other sea life ingest floating plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. More than half the world’s sea turtles have eaten plastic, and partly as a result, almost all of their species are threatened or endangered. And other sea animals become ensnared in discarded fishing line, six-pack can holders, and other debris.
So what you can you do to help save the seas and waterways?
Leave only footprints: the next time you travel to the beach, river, or any wilderness, leave nothing but footprints. Bring all your trash home. Plan ahead by bringing a trash bag to make all that junk easier to carry.
- Leave it better than you found it: while you have that trash bag out, go ahead and pick up some of the debris left by others, like my 12-year-old nephew did (all on his own) near our campground in Half Moon Bay, California recently…I was so impressed and proud of him!
- Use reusables: instead of drinking bottled water, get a reusable water bottle and fill it from the tap. Buy some reusable canvas grocery bags (or even better, bags woven from recycled soda bottles!) and use them at the grocery store.
- Recycle! Most plastics–not just disposables, but even many items intended to be more durable–can be recycled. Look for a recycling symbol with a numeric code (1-7) inside it. The code indicates the type of plastic. Then find out which types your community recycles, and keep those items out of the landfill and waterways.
To learn more about the Washed Ashore Project, see some of their other remarkable sculptures, find out when one of their exhibitions will be coming to a location near you, or support their work with a charitable donation, visit their website at washedashore.org. And if you happen to be on the southern Oregon coast, don’t miss their gallery and workshop in Bandon.