Artist turns trash into treasure as means to educate public

Turtle art

Turtle hospital volunteer Ginger Taylor stands by ‘Trash Turtle,’ a piece she and and Bonnie Monteleone, the founder of the ‘Plastic Ocean Project, Inc.’ created from beach and ocean trash. It is on permanent display at The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center as a reminder to visitors of the impact refuse — specifically plastic — can have on marine life.

Published: Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 01:59 PM.

Are you reading this while drinking your coffee (in a Styrofoam cup), stirring in (with a plastic stirrer) the cream (that came out of a little plastic container)? It’s only one small example of how we can’t seem to navigate through life these days without creating trash. 

In our work with endangered species that spend their lives at sea we are well aware of what happens to most of that trash: It ends up in the oceans. If you live in the ocean, you eat what’s in the ocean. We’ve seen first-hand what turtles find tasty, and it ain’t pretty. It makes them sick, and it makes us sick to think that we are the ones responsible for trashing our beautiful planet.

In our new building we literally have a great hall that we are slowly filling with exhibits, and one of the most striking and fascinating is our wall-mounted “trash turtle.” Several months ago our director, Jean Beasley, asked Ginger Taylor (one of the greenest volunteers we have) and Bonnie Monteleone of Wilmington, the founder of the “Plastic Ocean Project, Inc.” if they could create a turtle sculpture made of trash from local beaches to bring home the plastic story for our visitors. (Bonnie is an accomplished artist, and you can read more about her work, including her amazing plastic wave now on tour on the POP, Inc. website.)

Ginger is a passionate beachcomber, but her treasure for the past six years has been plastic. As her collection accumulated in Bonnie’s storage area they often talked about “someday” creating a turtle made of plastic. Now they had the incentive, a venue and a very tight timeframe in which to bring the concept to life. And they certainly weren’t lacking in material. But how to put it together?

Ginger said they knew it had to be three dimensional, and it was important that the dimensions mirror a real sea turtle. One of our patients at the time, “Hyde,” served as the model, and he sat patiently in his tank while Ginger measured every part of the big guy with tape and calipers. Now with an idea of the size they sorted through mounds of garbage to find things that could best represent a sea turtle. They had lots and lots of sunglasses, flip flops and shovels, and those items became the basis of exhibit. 

They started with the eyes, the “widows to the soul” of every creature. You can see in the eyes of these amazing animals the collective wisdom of millions of years and the story of their continuing struggle to survive. Ginger and Bonnie experimented with many combinations of lenses and finally settled on a three-layer model: dive mask goggles, swim goggles and sunglass lenses, and it’s an eerily similar reproduction of our turtle’s eyes. The head was next, and after several nights of staying up until 1 to 2 a.m., they finally achieved success. 

Now for the body: Shovels were spot-on for the scutes, and those flat flip-flops woven together with straws made for a perfect plastron. The areas between the scutes were filled with bubble wrap, which was sprayed with glue and sprinkled with beach sand. The netting on our critter was plucked from a gyre in the Pacific by Bonnie. That netting was responsible for the deaths of 21 sea lions that became entangled in it. Finally trash turtle was complete and was being mounted on our wall the night before our grand opening in June. Ginger also created two additional pieces (mounted in recycled window panels) on ocean trash and its impact on all of us. Everything in the exhibit has been recycled.

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