Shark sculpture made of ocean plastic
(Photo: © WashedAshore.org)

A staggering 8 million metric tons of plastic debris enters our oceans every year. While some of it is eventually washes up along the coast, recent studies have estimated that there is currently more than 5 trillion individual pieces of plastic drifting in the deep blue sea.

The debris isn't just floating aimlessly, though — it's increasingly common to find it entangling dolphins or lurking in the stomachs of sea turtles.

Galvanized by this sobering reality, artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi began creating uncanny sculptures of marine wildlife using debris found washed up on beaches.

Sea lion sculpture made of ocean plastic
(Photo: © WashedAshore.org)

The clever, larger-than-life sculptures are currently part of a traveling educational exhibit organized by the Washed Ashore Project, a nonprofit organization that harnesses the power of the arts to teach communities about environmental issues. Many of the pieces were created with help from passionate volunteers.

"Most of the stuff we get off the beaches is coming from the middle of the ocean or from overseas," Pozzi explains in an interview. "We process it by hosing it down, sorting it, scrubbing it, soaking it, cutting it and drilling it."

Sea garden sculpture made of ocean plastic
(Photo: © WashedAshore.org)

Although the sculptures are undeniably beautiful, it's an unsettling kind of beauty.

"People don't realize how bad it is by just listening to statistics," Pozzi says. "I thought, I need to do something that makes people [...] not ignore the problem."

It's easy to avoid thinking about the trash you discard every day, but Pozzi's works serve as a reminder to everyone that society's "out of sight, out of mind" strategy for waste management is simply not sustainable.

Octopus sculpture made of ocean plastic
(Photo: © WashedAshore.org)
Penguin sculpture made of ocean plastic
(Photo: © WashedAshore.org)
Blue fish sculpture made of ocean plastic
(Photo: © WashedAshore.org)
Seal sculpture made of ocean plastic
Seal sculpture made of ocean plastic (Photo: © WashedAshore.org)
Swordfish sculpture made of ocean plastic
(Photo: © WashedAshore.org)
Tufted penguin sculpture made of ocean plastic
(Photo: © WashedAshore.org)
Reddish orange fish sculpture made of ocean plastic
(Photo: © WashedAshore.org)
Sea turtle sculpture made of ocean plastic
(Photo: © WashedAshore.org)

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.