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Shedd Aquarium to unveil new ‘Washed Ashore’ exhibit on Saturday

The clown fish is in the Wild Reef of the Shedd Aquarium. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

Shedd Aquarium’s new exhibit displays just how much plastic and waste pollutes oceans, lakes and rivers.

The Shedd Aquarium will officially unveil the first of three installments of its newest exhibit, “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea,” on Saturday. The 10 sculptures on display throughout the aquarium are created entirely out of recovered debris found on beaches.

The sculptures are the brainchild of Angela Haseltine Pozzi, artistic director and lead artist for Washed Ashore, who started the project after her husband suddenly passed away in 2010.

“I went to the ocean for healing, but found an ocean that needed healing,” said Haseltine Pozzi, who lives in Oregon.

This jellyfish is made entirely out of plastic bottles and boat bumpers. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
This jellyfish is made entirely out of plastic bottles and boat bumpers. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

Cheryl Mell, senior vice president of conservation partnerships and programs for Shedd, said the exhibit’s main goal aims to open visitors’ eyes about water pollution and spark conversations about how they can do their part to prevent it.

“Humans are the problem, but we’re also the solution,” Mell said, adding that scientists predict if we don’t take action to limit and prevent plastic pollution, the amount of plastic in the oceans will exceed the amount of fish pound-for-pound by 2050.

Plastic bottles, toothbrushes and flip flops are just some of the recovered garbage that has been transformed into various life-sized aquatic animals, including a river otter, clown fish and a seahorse.

This fish was made out of abandoned shoes found along the west coast. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
This fish was made out of abandoned shoes found along the west coast. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

Haseltine Pozzi said she hopes her “beautiful and horrendous” artworks will “wake people up.”

“Our mission is to build an exhibit with aesthetically powerful art to educate a global audience about the dangers of plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways, including lakes and to spark positive changes in consumer habits,” she said.

Washed Ashore has made more than 70 sculptures over the past seven years like the ones on display at the Shedd and in other locations around the country. Haseltine Pozzie said the nonprofit organization has collected 21 tons of plastic along the West Coast and has worked with more than 10,000 volunteers, who helped stitch the plastic and debris together to make the pieces.

The river otter’s nose is made out of the tip of a clothes hanger. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
The river otter’s nose is made out of the tip of a clothes hanger. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times

The Shedd doesn’t just talk-the-talk when it comes to committing to plastic-use reduction. Mull said the aquarium replaced its plastic bags with reusable totes. She also said they’re no longer using plastic condiment containers and straws; the aquarium calls it the “Shedd the Straw” initiative.

The exhibit will be on display for the next year. The collection will add six pieces in November and then finish it with three more large sculptures displayed outside starting in the spring.

Here’s a look at a few of the other sculptures:

This is a coral reef made out of marine debris. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
This is a coral reef made out of marine debris. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
This fish is on the coral reef. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
This fish is on the coral reef. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
Haseltine Pozzi said she was surprised to find an action figure in the garbage. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
Haseltine Pozzi said she was surprised to find an action figure in the garbage. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
Eli the Eel is 13 feet long. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
Eli the Eel is 13 feet long. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
There are informational boards on the walls near the sculptures that encourage visitors to find key items in the art pieces. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times
There are informational boards on the walls near the sculptures that encourage visitors to find key items in the art pieces. | Madeline Kenney/Sun-Times