The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Like a message in a bottle, washed-up plastic signals a growing threat to global health

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A Sea Lion sculpture from the Washed Ashore art exhibit.A sea lion sculpture from the Washed Ashore art exhibit that will open this weekend at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga.  Tennessee Aquarium/Washed Ashore

Poignant plastic-waste art exhibit washes ashore at Tennessee Aquarium  

CHATTANOOGA — Visitors to the Tennessee Aquarium will see a dire warning in the guise of colorful art crafted from plastic debris at a unique exhibit beginning April 16.

Washed Ashore is an Oregon-based nonprofit organization dedicated to repurposing plastic waste through artists and sparking conservation conversations. The Tennessee Aquarium will host an exhibit of its sculptures and collages.

Those who walk ocean and lake beaches see the accumulated debris. Some may try to ignore it. Others may abandon their favorite places for recreation and relaxation because they can no longer bear the unsightly wreckage. Plastics impact every living creature.

According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), at any given time, there are more than 100 million pieces of litter on Tennessee’s roadways, which can pose a threat to both land and aquatic animals.

“The connections between roadside litter, water quality, and aquatic systems cannot be overstated,” said Denise Baker, TDOT’s transportation program supervisor. “Since visible litter studies began in Tennessee, TDOT and its many community partners have been effective at decreasing the amount of roadside litter, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“By continuing our work with the Tennessee Aquarium and other organizations, we can get more people of all ages excited about cleaning up the litter that already exists and preventing more litter from piling up across the state of Tennessee.” 

TDOT initiated the Nobody Trashes Tennessee campaign and partnered with organizations like the Aquarium to engage people to join in an anti-littering push that will significantly benefit our natural treasures. Aquarium guests will be captivated by the colorful creatures during their visit and then head home to consider ways to join the effort to improve the environment.

Unum is also supporting bringing this art exhibition to Chattanooga. Like a message in a bottle, the plastic debris that washes ashore also signals a growing concern for human health.

“Unum is proud to sponsor the Washed Ashore Art Exhibit because environmental protection and preservation of our oceans, rivers, and beaches is an important part of building a thriving, healthy community,” said Unum’s Executive Vice President of People and Communications Liz Ahmed. “It is great to have an exhibit like this to highlight the importance of recycling and sustainability efforts.”

The sculptures guests can see during their visit or while exploring the plaza and city park surrounding the aquarium include:

  • Seemore the Sea Lion Pup (Aquarium plaza)
  • Sylvia the Silvertip Shark (Aquarium Plaza)
  • Lemon Zest Jelly (Ocean Journey)
  • Giacometti the River Otter (River Journey)
  • Flip Flop Fish (River Journey)
  • Fish Bite Fish (IMAX Theater)
  • Stella the Seahorse (Ocean Journey)
  • Jelly Bloom (Ocean Journey)
  • Sea of Debris Collage (Ocean Journey)
  • Plastic Tribe (River Journey, IMAX Theater)
  • Pinky Wallfish (Ocean Journey)
  • Noah Wallfish (Ocean Journey)
  • Shoefish Wallfish (Ocean Journey)
  • Annie the Anemone (Ocean Journey)
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