Angela Hafeltine Pozzi has always found the ocean a place of great comfort. But a visit to her family’s property in Bandon, a small beach town in southern Oregon, several years ago revealed a much different sea than the one she remembered. What she found, she says, was “an ocean that needed healing.” The ailment? Plastic, which Pozzi found strewn all along the shores of her beloved beaches. Seeing all that garbage was bad enough, but Pozzi knew it also had devastating consequences for the animals that call the ocean home. Spurred on by her recent discovery, Pozzi started the Washed Ashore project with the mission of creating awareness about the effects of plastic trash on the ocean and marine life. The project is part of the Artula Institute for Arts and Environmental Education, a nonprofit Pozzi founded to educate people about the environment through art projects.

In the past year, Pozzi has engaged 500 volunteers to collect more than 7,000 pounds of waste at beach clean-up days. Members of the community are also invited to drop off any plastic they collect on their own time. Volunteers have found everything from plastic bags, to water bottles (some with labels from the Beijing Olympics), to storage containers, to broken buoys. Much of it has been broken into smaller pieces that may look like food to fish and other marine life.

Pozzi's jellyfish sculpture made of plastics. Photo courtesy of Washed Ashore.


Once it has been sorted, all that trash is stitched into enormous sculptures in the shape of the marine animals whose lives would be threatened if it were left in the ocean. To make each piece, Pozzi starts with a steel frame made from old rebar. Volunteers use drills to punch holes in the plastic and wire to attach each piece to the metal frame. The team has built 15 sculptures, including Avery the giant bird (who can be rented for special events), fish, sea turtles, jellyfish and seals. The group has also used Styrofoam to fashion a bleached coral reef, and black plastic to create a replica of an oil spill. “Beautiful and horrifying is what we go for when we’re making sculptures,” Pozzi explains. So far, Washed Ashore’s traveling art exhibit has been featured at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and conferences in Hawaii and California. Pozzi will be at the Oregon State Fair in Salem in August, inviting visitors to add plastic decorations to her latest sculpture. Like her art exhibit, Pozzi is also available to travel to other communities and teach workshops to people interested in starting art projects of their own. At the time of publication, the exhibit just finished a run at Portland Community College’s Sylvania Campus, where instructors say it received rave reviews. “Students are changing their usage of water bottles,” Pozzi says. “They’re really thinking through the problems caused by plastic and how to solve them. Several students have said seeing the exhibit was a life-changing experience for them.” Which is music to Pozzi’s ears. “The first step in getting laws changed and people’s habits changed is to raise awareness,” she explains. “Art is a great forum for getting a message across to people.”