Shedd Aquarium Welcomes Traveling Exhibit With a Dire Message

Washed Ashore presents sculptures of beloved marine life made entirely from marine debris

This Saturday, Sept. 23, Shedd Aquarium will unveil 10 new arrivals – giant sea life sculptures made entirely from plastic marine debris. The sculptures represent the first installment of a traveling exhibit, Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea, which illustrates how plastic pollution has become one of the gravest threats facing ocean and freshwater animals, while helping the public understand what they can do to be a part of the solution.

"More plastic has been produced in the last 10 years than during the last century - nearly 300 million tons every year," said Dr. Bridget Coughlin, president & CEO of Shedd Aquarium. "A plastic straw dropped during a picnic at 12th Street Beach can harm a local Great Lakes sturgeon or travel through Lake Michigan, up the Great Lakes system, along the St. Lawrence River and out to the Atlantic Ocean.  There, it can choke a fish, seal, seabird, or sea turtle. This thought-provoking exhibit helps Shedd continue to have a dialogue with our guests about how small choices, done by many people, can have a huge impact.”

Guests will recognize beloved, life-sized aquatic species like a seahorse, a river otter and a coral reef, but as they move closer, they will also recognize plastic bottles, flip flops and other plastic trash used to create them.  The exhibit will stay at Shedd for a full year, with a second installment of sculptures arriving in November and a third and final installment in April 2018, bringing the total number of sculptures to 19.

During the launch on Saturday, guests can pick up a Washed Ashore passport and collect stamps at each sculpture. After turning in a completed passport, they can Spin-to-Win some ocean-friendly prizes. There will also be a station to customize reusable bags to take home. The artist and educator behind Washed Ashore, Angela Haseltine Pozzi, will also speak during the aquatic presentations about how she transforms beach trash into educational, larger-than-life sculptures.

Washed Ashore is a non-profit community art project founded by Pozzi in 2010. The project is based in Bandon, Oregon, where Angela first recognized the amount of plastic washing up on the beaches she loved and decided to take action.

“The colorful and dramatic sculptures are meant to be a wake-up call, showcasing the devastating effects of plastic to aquatic life,” said Pozzi. “Over the past six years, we have processed tons of plastic pollution from Pacific beaches to create monumental art that is awakening the hearts and minds of viewers to the global marine debris crisis. We are thrilled that Shedd is proactively taking on the issue of single-use plastics, and bringing the connection between to the Great Lakes and our oceans to the forefront for their guests.”

The statistics concerning plastic pollution are staggering, with some scientists predicting that by 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh the amount of fish pound-for-pound. A bit closer to home, it’s estimated that 22 million pounds of plastic flow into the Great Lakes each year. The amount of plastic debris entering Lake Michigan alone each year is equivalent to 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools full of plastic bottles.

Shedd’s Impact

Shedd has been actively involved in combatting single-use plastics. Earlier this year, the aquarium launched “Shedd the Straw” – a campaign encouraging Chicago restaurants and consumers to refuse single-use straws in place of more sustainable options. A staggering 500 million plastic straws are used each day. On Earth Day, the initiative resulted in 10,000 fewer straws being used in the city in just one day. The aquarium was also a founding member of the Aquatic Conservation Partnership, a collective of 19 aquariums across the country that joined together to reduce their respective single-use plastic footprints and educate the public on how to do the same.  

Shedd Aquarium is also taking steps to limit its own single-use plastic footprint—and benefit aquatic animals. The aquarium has eliminated single-use plastics, such as straws, utensils, individual condiment containers and shopping bags, from its restaurants and stores while also providing plastic recycling receptacles for guests and staff members.  These efforts among others earned the aquarium the “Outstanding Non-Profit Recycling and Waste Reduction Program” award from the Illinois Recycling Association in 2015.

For Washed Ashore’s public opening at the aquarium on Saturday, Sept. 23, Shedd will join forces with The Recycling Partnership to expand opportunities to educate guests and inspire them to get involved in recycling programs that continue to protect oceans, lakes, rivers and streams. The national nonprofit also recently launched the “It’s All You” recycling campaign with the City of Chicago.

Throughout the year in Chicago, Shedd volunteers and staff participate in Great Lakes Action Days, many of which involve local beach clean-ups. These beach clean-ups also extend overseas through the aquarium’s high school and college course programs. In 2017 alone, Shedd’s GLAD program picked up more than 3,200 pounds of litter on local beaches, almost half of which could have been recycled.


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