THE NATIONAL ZOO has a few new sea creatures floating around, but you won’t find them behind glass or metal. DC’s most popular day trip has partnered with non-profit Washed Ashore to exhibit sculptures of marine life — made entirely of recycled plastics taken from the ocean.
The 17 sculptures, placed throughout the park, are massive, brightly colored examples of just how bad ocean pollution has gotten, and the danger it poses to marine ecosystems. Although the sculptures could easily be characters in Pixar’s new Finding Dory — Flash the Marlin, Octavia the Octopus and Seamore the Sea Lion to name a few— they actually represent the species most endangered by ocean pollution.
But Washed Ashore is determined to turn the tide. Founded by environmental artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, the organization works to improve the environment both in the field and by educating through their art. Imagine a piece of trash — soda bottle cap, sandal strap, plastic sand toys, toilet seat, you name it — it is picked up by a volunteer in a community cleanup, washed and sorted, and becomes a part of a specially designed piece constructed by Washed Ashore staff, volunteers and students. Since the organization started in 2010, they’ve transformed trash from more than 300 miles of beaches to create more than 60 sculptures that travel to zoos, aquariums and other institutions around the country to raise awareness about ocean pollution.
The Zoo exhibit makes an extra effort to engage visitors. Signs around the sculptures invite visitors to touch (albeit gently) and interact with some I-Spy-type play (e.g., find the pink comb, the boogie board, the dog leash, etc). The signage is fun, but the sculptures are a feat by themselves. The size is impressive enough (a 12-foot-long shark, an 8-foot-wide octopus), but as you move closer to examine patches of color and body parts, they reveal a fantastic world of detail. It’s impossible to ignore the amount of meticulous planning that must have gone on behind the scenes.
Anyone who has visited the Zoo knows it’s a sprawling, hilly maze, and I definitely passed Flash the Marlin about three times before I realized I was walking in circles. But if you’re braving the labyrinth for the Giant Pandas, these eco-friendly and educational sculptures will certainly brighten your trip.
— Emily Harburg
MyLittleBird summer intern Emily Harburg last posted a story on books about books.