Chicago's Shedd Aquarium offers a fresh look at the messy truth of marine garbage.
Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea
Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea

Daisy the Polar Bear makes no sound, but her message echoes with the urgency of a foghorn. It's there in the discarded flip-flops that form her paw pads, the plastic spoons and forks that make up her brushy fur, and the cooler lids that double as ice chunks in her display at Chicago's John G. Shedd Aquarium. Sitting 10 feet tall, she's one of 19 sculptures (including Cleo the Clownfish, left) created from marine garbage-more than 12,000 pounds of it-and on display here through September.

The Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea exhibit (free with aquarium admission) spreads the message about plastic's threat to ocean and freshwater animals. In the last 10 years, humans have produced more plastic than during the previous century, says Dr. Bridget Coughlin, Shedd president and CEO. And alarmingly, a single straw discarded at 12th Street Beach in Chicago can choke a sturgeon in Lake Michigan or a turtle deep in the Atlantic Ocean.

Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea
Photo courtesy of Shedd Aquarium

Oregon-based artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi and a group of volunteers founded the nonprofit Washed Ashore Project after becoming concerned about plastic washing up on the Pacific beaches they loved. Since then, they have transformed discarded beach toys, bottle caps, buckets and bags into sea-creature sculptures.

A scavenger hunt-style search connects kids with the exhibit's message about plastic's impact on marine life. But there's an upside to this serious story: "Small choices, done by many people, can have a huge impact," Bridget says. Last year, a campaign called Shedd the Straw resulted in 10,000 fewer straws being used in Chicago on June 8, World Oceans Day, when 20 participating restaurants opted not to serve them with drink orders.