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 By guest bloggers Pam Longobardi and Wayne Sentman

Pam Longobardi,”Consumption Driftweb,” in OCEANOMANIA at Nouveau Musée National de Monaco, 2011

Art can be premonitory; it can be seen as a red flag or a warning as sensitive artists notice and respond to change and impactful events. More and more artists around the world are responding to the degradation of our ocean systems by human-made plastic pollution. Art created from this material is increasingly being used as a mechanism of environmental education, helping to create an emotional connection to the problem among the viewing public, utilizing marine debris as a material to create awareness among multiple communities. Creative artists now play a role in both interpreting this environmental challenge to the public and helping to inspire creative solutions to what at times seems like an unsolvable problem. Public art installations can help create a new public consciousnessthat promotes pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors.

Laysan albatross carcass with ingested plastic debris. Photo courtesy of C. Fackler, NOAA ONMS.

On Midway Atoll, a remote National Wildlife Refuge in the North Pacific, Wayne has witnessed the effects of plastic marine pollution firsthand for many years. Albatross chicks’ decaying carcasses have filled viewers with a sense of “culpable ignorance.” Seeing these decayed bodies laden with plastic where their stomachs would be reminds us that we are connected to the natural world. That plastic toothbrush that we threw out, those bottle caps that we walk past on the street, and the multitude of plastic that we have not recycled ends up where we least expect it. Over the years artists have been the messengers of the “un-natural” history of this problem so easily viewed in the field at Midway. The albatross at Midway are a harbinger of the amount of plastic in the ocean since they happen to feed along one of the largest concentrations of marine debris in the North Pacific. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service researchers have estimated that each year at least 5 tons of plastic marine debris is brought to (landfilled at) Midway Atoll by albatross regurgitating to their young. Recent studies indicate that marine plastic pollution is also ending up in fish from these same areas and is now integrated into the marine food chain.

Additionally, artists are starting to work collaboratively with scientists and activists to create a synergistic, multi-disciplinary approach to raising public awareness and defining positive actions that can be undertaken to address the issue. The United Nations Environmental Program and NOAA co-sponsored the 5th International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the conference was a model of this type of relationship. The unique thing about this conference was the enormous presence of art at what was basically a scientific conference. UNEP and NOAA invited us to put together the art program, and we were able to raise enough funds to hold a professional fine art exhibition within the conference. Pam also put together a digital stream of nearly 40 other artists from around the world working with this issue. The overwhelming response by artists all over the world to my call for artwork was in itself a wonderful and heartening experience. The conference brought together the plastics industry, scientists, artists, and activists like Surfrider Foundation and Plastics Pollution Coalition – people from all over the world (440 people from 36 countries). Many of these stakeholders are on opposite sides of the issue, but the conference managed to provide a forum that brought everyone to the table. What resulted was the Honolulu Commitment, which we see as the “Kyoto Protocol of plastic.” The artist/activist contingent worked very hard to get specific language about micro-plastics, endocrine disruptors, and heavy metal contamination into the document that all parties agreed to. It felt momentous.

Pam is also working on a project with the Alaska SeaLife Center and the Anchorage Museum to send an expedition of artists and scientists to the remote stretch of the Aleutian Islands off Alaska that form the northern rim of the North Pacific Gyre. We had our first planning meeting of all the partners in June and filmed a promotional video that involved a beach landing in Resurrection Bay, with Carl Safina and Pam surveying what was found there. This project is very large scale and still over a year away from being initiated, but Pam and Howard Ferren, Director of Conservation at the Alaska SeaLife Center, have already been working on it for over a year and it continues to evolve and take shape.

Few people are able to visit remote places such as Midway Atoll or the Aleutian Islands. Art can serve as the bridge to these wildlife populations and the environmental issues that could only otherwise be appreciated through firsthand field experience. When professional artists from around the globe begin to explore the topic of marine debris the public is made aware that this problem is not simply limited to a remote island group, but is global in scale and therefore we all are connected to, and part of, the problem. Once a viewer appreciates this connection, discovered through viewing art, they may become engaged with the marine environment and more invested in finding solutions to reducing marine pollution sources.

Art is a powerful way to increase public participation and awareness of the problems of marine debris by showcasing it in an educational yet judgment-neutral manner across a diverse stakeholder base. When students and community members view and interact with items of collected marine debris in large-scale works of art, the intimacy with the items will facilitate an understanding of individual connectedness to this problem. Art can showcase the problem, helping individuals to become motivated to contribute to solutions without assigning blame to other segments of the community.

~Pam Longobardi and Wayne Sentman, July 2011

About our guest bloggers:

                                                                                                                                                                                             “The first time I came face to face with enormous piles of plastic debris on South Point of the Big Island in 2006, I was amazed at the beautiful colors against the black lava beach, because that’s what plastic does, it charms and seduces us. Then I got closer and I could see what it all was, it was all our JUNK, and it just hit me like a thunderbolt. There was even a toilet seat among the piles, and it was such a sick sad metaphor for how we treat the earth. It changed me right then and there, and I began gathering it up and cleaning beaches, to drag it back and show it, to put it in front of people so we can see what the material legacy of the human race has become. This was the start of the Drifters Project.

As an artist, I have always dealt with trying to understand the psychological relationship between humans and nature. We are in a kind of dualistic isolation from it, at once an integral part of it of it and yet somehow outside of it. I am interested in the idea of the positioning of the ego in an attempt to locate the self amidst the incomprehensibility of the external natural world at large. Culture functions as a way to try to navigate or map this territory.” ~Pam Longobardi

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   After many years working in remote field locations around the globe, where I witnessed the impacts on wildlife related to marine pollution, I have become very interested in the value of art as a way to interpret “hidden” environmental issues to the public. Art has the power to facilitate an understanding of an individual’s connectedness to this problem. ~Wayne Sentman

Posted July 26, 2011 by marinedebrisblog in marine debris, marine litter, guest, 5IMDC, Prevention, Hawaii, Education

Tagged with marine debris, education, art, sculpture, art education
Talkin’ Trash with Our Nation’s Educators Leave a comment

Diving with Dragons

City Fish and Country Fish

Ultimate Squid Dissection

Small Fry to Go: Growing a new generation of citizen scientists

Ghostbusting in the Chesapeake

You know you’re going to a conference of educators when you see presentation names like these! These were only a handful of over 200 educational presentations at this year’s National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) conference. This year’s conference was held June 29-July 3 on the gorgeous campus of Northeastern University in Boston.

Program cover for NMEA conference.

So much to learn, so little time! Educators from all across the U.S. and even a handful from countries such as Australia and Japan were in attendance, each bringing knowledge and experience in outreach and education. My week was spent trying to download and absorb as much information as I could, coupled with networking with as many people as possible. The wealth of educational programs, resources, tools, and materials out there is staggering and utterly impressive. You could find everything from a toolkit to help you teach about plankton to information on how to use GPS drifters for hands-on oceanography.

Of course, you could also learn about the incredibly fascinating subject of “Plastics and the Patches: Information and Resources on Marine Debris.” My presentation was on the very last day of the conference and right before lunch. I had to wonder how many folks would actually show up. You see, I was one of ten presenters all slated for the same time slot and thus participants had to choose carefully as they could only go and see one of the ten. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with a completely full room!

Map of the North Pacific Ocean showing location of major currents and "garbage patches." Credit: NOAA Marine Debris Program

We have all seen stories in the media about plastic marine debris and areas of our oceans known as the “garbage patches” (areas of the ocean where marine debris tends to concentrate). The myriad of information, sometimes contradictory, has left the public confused. Why haven’t I seen a photo of a patch? Do plastics truly degrade? In an attempt to arm educators with the sound science and the resources and materials to help make their work easier, my presentation provided up-to-date science-based information to help demystify and clarify what is known about plastic marine debris and the patches. I was blown away by not only the level of interest, enthusiasm, and passion for the topic of marine debris, but also the desire for good, solid, science-based information.

The week flew by and before I knew it, I was headed home. I left with my luggage much heavier than when I arrived, my notebook bursting at the seams with new information, my business card holder overflowing with new contacts. The educators’ passion fueled my passion and renewed my hope and belief that there will be an end to this worldwide problem. To all the educators – thank you and keep rockin’! ~Carey

Boston at sunset. Credit: NOAA Marine Debris Program

Posted July 12, 2011 by marinedebrisblog in Carey, conference, garbage patch, marine debris, marine litter, nationwide, NOAA, NOAA Marine Debris Program, ocean plastics, Outreach, plastics, Prevention

Tagged with Conference, education, marine debris, National Marine Educators Association, outreach

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