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Florida Aquarium hosts display by the artist who turns ocean garbage into sculpture with a message

Margie Manning

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Angela Haseltine Pozzi, founder of Washed Ashore, with the Whale Ribcage exhibit at the Florida Aquarium. Made from bait traps, bleach bottles, buoys, soap bottles and bucket lids that washed up on the beach, the exhibit shows how these kinds of discarded materials have killed whales.

Trash and debris that’s washed up from the ocean has been turned into powerful works of art on display at the Florida Aquarium.

“Washed Ashore — Art to Save the Sea” is intended to educate viewers about the damage to marine life that’s caused by plastics and other discarded items.

“We don’t think about how much plastic is in our lives. We don’t remember that it will last forever. It’s hurting our planet, because there’s so much of it,” artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi told the St. Pete Catalyst in a pre-opening tour.

Pozzi is an artist and educator who founded Washed Ashore, an Oregon-based nonprofit, in 2010. Parts of the exhibit have been displayed nationwide, including at the Smithsonian, but it’s the first time the Reef at Risk exhibit will be displayed in Florida. The Vinik Family Foundation, managed by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny Vinik, donated $250,000 to bring the exhibit to The Florida Aquarium.

“Washed Ashore” officially opens on Feb. 29, but most of the exhibit had been assembled by Wednesday morning and visitors to the Aquarium, including dozens of schoolchildren, got to see the displays. It will be on exhibit through Aug. 30.

There are about 20 giant sea-life sculptures — a whale, a seahorse and a great white shark, to name a few — made entirely from plastic bottles, bottle caps, bags, boxes and other trash that was thrown away and became marine pollution.

The materials were picked up off a 300-mile stretch of beach in Oregon, but could have been found anywhere in the world, Pozzi said. She and a large team of volunteers use every scrap of material to create the sculptures.

“People have beach cleanups all the time, but they don’t ever save what they pick up. If you could see it you’d be shocked … That’s one reason I started this project,” she said. “We built 13 sculptures in six months in 2010. When the Japanese tsunami happened [in March 2011] and entire villages were pulled out to sea by the tsunami, we got a lot more big stuff— parts of boats, sides of houses, parts of cars. I’m never shy of supplies, unfortunately. I would love to be put out of business. I would love to run out of art supplies but that’s not going to happen.”

Plastic is needed for some things, such as computers and phones, but it isn’t needed for everything, Pozzi said. And, while some plastics can be recycled, that capability doesn’t exist everywhere.

“Reduce, re-use, recycle is something that we heard, but we haven’t been taught the first two — reduce and re-use. We only learn about recycle,” she said. “We need to start by doing those first two of that trio and then we need to re-invent. Humans are smart. We invent new things. But we have to invest into those innovators who are coming up with great ideas.”

She cited products such as biodegradable water bottles made out of algae.

“I have a lot of hope. I think we just need to wake up and demand it. Supply and demand is a powerful tool. The more consumers say ‘I want to buy that thing made out of hemp or bamboo instead of plastic,’ the more of that will be made. So every time you buy something you are voting for that to continue,” Pozzi said. “Consumers have a lot of power. Everything in this exhibit was once purchased by somebody and then got in the ocean. We have the power to change it.”

Florida Aquarium-Washed Ashore

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Artist and educator Angela Haseltine Pozzi founded Washed Ashore. This sculpture, Reef at Risk, was created especially for the Florida Aquarium. It shows coral reefs as bright, vibrant living structures, the way they are supposed to be, Pozzi said.

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