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Francesca Koe’s Blog

Turning the Tide on Plastic Pollution With Art

Francesca Koe

Posted August 22, 2012 in Reviving the World's Oceans

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Beauty can be found in the most unexpected of places. In a moving series of photographs, artist Mandy Barker turns the tragedy of marine plastic pollution into compelling works of art. Her series, SOUP, documents plastics salvaged from beaches around the world in an effort to bring attention to the need for better regulations of plastic production and disposal.

Although single-use plastics are widely recognized as one of the largest threats to our oceans, plastic pollution is even more nefarious than what washes up on our beaches daily. Those tiny pieces of plastic that you see on your trip to the shore this summer are sadly a symptom of a much larger problem. The bulk of the plastic debris in our oceans accumulates not on the beaches, where it is easily seen, but in giant "garbage patches," floating like minestrone soup thousands of miles off of our coasts. Suspended particles in the sea create a recipe for disaster harming animals and poisoning the food chain as a deadly "plastic soup."

Another artist turned conservationist, Chris Jordan uses his art to illustrate the sheer number of plastics littering our oceans. One of his pieces is made up of 2.4 million pieces of plastic. Why did he choose 2.4 million? Well unfortunately that is the estimated number of plastic in pounds that enter the world's oceans every hour.

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                                       GYRE: Copyright © Chris Jordan

Marine plastics have become both the focus, and the medium of choice, for artists around the world who are merging conservation with creativity to bring a new level of attention to the problem of marine plastic pollution. 

From installations inspired by the tons of plastic in the great pacific garbage patch, to a beach-combing couple's take on how to transform trash into treasures, this new trend is a comment on the global concern over the state of our seas.

As a source of inspiration, oceans seems endless and powerful, but we now know that our oceans are far more vulnerable to human impacts than once believed. Unlike the limitless inspiration they provide, our oceans' resources are actually finite. Perhaps through their ingenious work, these artists can inspire us all to find a better way of treating our oceans in order to sustain their life-giving productivity and health.

Japanese artist, Motoi Yamamoto uses his sculptural salt installations to illustrate our relationship with the ocean. The giant sculptures, take over a hundred of hours to create and are made entirely of salt. In a tribute to impermanence, Yamamoto invites the public to help him as the salt is returned to the sea at the end of the exhibition. This returning of salt to the sea is a beautiful gesture.

John F. Kennedy once said:

"All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea -- whether it is to sail or to watch it -- we are going back from whence we came."

These words and Yamamoto's giant salt mandalas reverberate for me and perhaps suggest an alternative way for society to view the ocean. Not as a source for food, money, and recreation, but rather as a place to come home to, something that is intrinsically a part of us and deserves our very best care.

Now, more than ever, this care is something that we must commit to. We can transcend by turning the tide on marine plastics, and put an end to the trashing of our ocean ecosystems. The trend of re-visioning ocean trash into meaningful works of art, reminds me that we can still revise what the future holds for our oceans and ourselves. I hope you will join me in reaffirming your commitment to protecting our world's ocean ecosystems from plastic pollution.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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