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Image: Houston Zoo

When you’re at the beach, taking in the happy rays of sunshine and soaking up the surf, your eyes don’t usually pan over to the scraps of trash and half-filled plastic bottles bobbing against the tide. One conservation group is hoping to shift the gaze of beachgoers and city dwellers, shining a much-needed light (or ray of sunshine) on water pollution with Washed Ashore, on exhibit at the Houston Zoo through April 15.

Set up through southwestern Oregon-based eco group Artula Institute for Arts & Environmental Education, the exhibition features art pieces made up of plastic debris found on American beaches. Coral reef, made from Styrofoam, and sea jellies, fastened together with plastic bottles, hang from the ceiling, focusing the effects of the ocean’s garbage—some 315 billion pounds of it—through an unflinching lens.

Zoo visitors won’t be able to miss an elaborate addition to the exhibition, a 23-foot long rib cage of a humpback whale made from recycled plastic. “The size of the whale bone ribcage is impressive,” notes Lauren St. Pierre, a spokesperson at the Zoo. The structure “is made entirely of white plastic debris, including shampoo bottles, Igloo cooler lids, and yogurt cups.”

The efforts of the exhibition and the Washed Ashore team are spearheaded by Angela Haseltine Pozzi, lead artist and executive director of the group. From base camp back in Oregon, Pozzi orchestrates community efforts to comb the beaches to clean up garbage then process the findings for later use.

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Image: Houston Zoo

“All of the art sculptures in the Washed Ashore exhibit are beautiful to look at, yet they also remind us all that we need to help save those animals most affected by plastic pollution,” says the Portland native. Pocci’s creative depiction of whalebones through the use of plastic debris, for instance, only serves as a reminder of extinction in whale species alike and the man-made material that is hastening their demise.

Pozzi founded the Artula Retreat and Residency Program and Arts Institute in 2008. It was after she noticed the massive plastic pollution along the southern Oregon Coast that the Washed Ashore Project was born.

This large collection of debris has been processed into more than 60 works of art, which are placed on exhibit across the country including the Houston Zoo. At the exhibit, each piece has a brief description that is intended to bring home the threat that plastic pollution poses to the sea and its diverse collection of creatures. Pozzi encourages individuals to rethink, reduce, reuse, recycle, reinvent, and refuse. “Everyone can make the world a better place—it is the reason we are here.”

Through April 15. Free with Houston Zoo admission. 6200 Hermann Park Dr. 713-533-6500. houstonzoo.org

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