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The Living Coast Discovery Center Opens New Exhibit

Henry the Fish welcomes visitors to the Living Coast Discovery Center.
Living Coast Discovery Center
Henry the Fish welcomes visitors to the Living Coast Discovery Center.

Washed Ashore Makes Art From Ocean Trash

The Living Coast Discovery Center Opens New Exhibit
GUESTS: Angela Haseltine Pozzi, artist and executive director of The Washed Ashore Project Dr. Brian Joseph, executive director of the Living Coast Discovery Center

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Last week, researchers at Scripps institution of oceanography reported that the great Pacific garbage patch had grown by 100% since the 1970s most of that plastic waste in the patch in the Pacific ocean has degraded into pieces no larger than a finger nail. But all the waste in the ocean does not float there, some of it returns to shore. And it's from the lids and bags and bottles that wash up on the coastline that an art exhibit has been created. It's on display now in Chula Vista. My guests, Angela Hazeltine Pozzi is the artist of washed ashore project. Welcome to the program. POZZI: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here. CAVANAUGH: And doctor Brian Joseph is executive director of the living coast discovery center. Welcome to the program. JOSEPH: Thank you, Maureen. It's good to be here. CAVANAUGH: Now, Angelina, tell us how you decided to turn plastic debris from the ocean into art. POZZI: Well, I have always believed in the power ever the arts as a great communicator to the masses. And I always love the ocean, and I was walked on the beach finding comfort after a tragedy of the loss of my husband, and seeing more and more debris washing up, and going to the ocean to heal, and really found an ocean that needed healing. CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. POZZI: And I thought, you know, I am an artist. I should be able to do something about this that can make a difference in the world. And I decided to just pour all my energy and money and time into figuring out how to do that. [ LAUGHTER ] POZZI: And decided that if I made sculptures from the debris on the beaches, and I could get the whole community where I lived to do the same thing, I could raise awareness. And I thought the best way was with giant animals! [ LAUGHTER ] CAVANAUGH: Could you try to describe the sculpture that you call your mat cot, Henry the fish. POZZI: Well, Henry is kind of like a giant rock fish Lincod mix. He is about 10 feet long, 8 feet tall. CAVANAUGH: What is he made of? POZZI: Completely of garbage off the beaches, and he is in the colors of red, yellow, and orange, big shark teeth, and he has black buoys for eyes. CAVANAUGH: Wow. Brian, how did you find out about this project? JOSEPH: I first heard about it a little over a year ago. I was stationed in the Middle East, doing some army work over there. And I was coming to visit a friend, and he told me he had this exhibit and I should see it. So as soon as I got back, my wife and I were overwhelmed with the intensity, the quality of the work, and found it truly inspirational. CAVANAUGH: How do you actually make these sculptures, Angela? POZZI: Well, with hundreds of people helping me. And that's a really important part of it. I do the sketches and the designs, and then I work with a -- another artist who does the drawings and fabrication drawings, and then we actually have high school students that do all of the welding for us as part of their community service. And then we have hundreds of people that in the small community of southern gone, in Banden is where we're based, collect things on a regular basis where they just drop things off at our workshop, other people that spray things off and sort them, and we see if they're -- the color and types, and then we drill them, and everything is wired and stitched. And no plastic is purchased to create these sculptures at all. CAVANAUGH: Very good point! Now, I'm just wondering, what are some of the things that you have found washed ashore, Angela? POZZI: Well, I think the most disturbing things that we find are the bite marks by fish and crab. And to actually see the teeth marks in plastic, it's mostly all plastics that we're finding, about 98% of it, and a lot of plastic water bottles are washing up from all around the world, really want CAVANAUGH: So tell me more about the bite marked plastic. You've actually used some bite marked plastic in one of your sculptures, that's on display in Chula Vista. What does that indicate? POZZI: Well, it's very clear evidence, visual evidence, of fish are eating this stuff, and turtles are eating it, are and the scientists are confirming this. They're finding animals with plastic in their bellies, there are birds that are ingesting it, and feeding it to their chicks, there are turtles that are dying from eating plastic bags, and the particles break down into bite-sized pieces. You know? And the animals don't know that they're plastic or that things attached to the plastic to eat. So the scary part is that it's getting in the food chain. And Scripps institute is really a leader in a lot of that research. And we're excited to continue to work with scientists to be able to include that scientific information into our exhibit. CAVANAUGH: And to show vis ramally that this is what's happening, because you can see the bite marks of the animals on these pieces of plastic. POZZI: Right. CAVANAUGH: Brian, tell us about the venue where washed ashore can be seen. The Chula Vista nature center just changeds it name to the living coast discovery center. Why? JOSEPH: That's right. We did just rebrand ourselves. Reemerge. And when the nature center was founded almost 25 years ago, it was founded on the premise it would interpret Sweetwater marsh only. And we're about coastal conservation, about the living coast. And discovery center has to do with people touching and learning and exploring. And that's the name of the game for us right now. We've redefined our mission. Our mission is to inspire care and exploration of the living earth by connecting people with coastal animals,ing plants, and habitats. That's why this exhibit works so well. If you go to a lot of museums and exhibits, they're hands-off. This is an exhibit that speaks to children, and children can touch, everyday objects, everyday color, things out of the environment. And you hear children teaching other children, teaching their families saying plastic kills marine animals. CAVANAUGH: I want both of you to answer this if you would, let me start with you, Brian. How have you seen people interact with the walked away sculptures? Many of them are rather large. JOSEPH: That's an important point. They're larger than life. And so they're mordramatic than life-sized objects. They're made of familiar things, and at first they're beautiful, but then they're horrible. I first saw people interact with them at the Marine mammal center, and then Angela had her sculptures -- and kids would come up and tell their families how awful this was, how plastic kills turtles, plastic kills birds, plastic kills dolphins. So it speaks to their heart, and that opens their mind. CAVANAUGH: Angela, for instance, you have a jelly fish that's made from hundreds of water bottles. How do you see people interact with that really -- it's a beautiful sculpture, but it's also as Brian was saying, somewhat disturbing. POZZI: Well, and that's really -- that's exactly what I'm hoping it'll do is pull you in from a distance and really be esthetically pleasing from a distance to the point where you want to approach it, then you get so close you can't help but see what it's made of, and then you start asking questions. And with the jelly fish, I encouraged people, and it was designed for people to go inside this jelly fish. 7 feet diameter. Then it has the guts are rope and Styrofoam, and everyday plastic objects designed in a way that it's all in white and clear, and a little bit of red. So it sort of looks real from a distance. And a lot of these are musical. CAVANAUGH: Oh. POZZI: A lot of these can make sounds. So they can be touched, they can be felt, they can -- I believe that by bringing all of the different senses into an experience, you can really reach people that sometimes don't get it. And my feeling was that we have a lot of statistics, and we have important research, and all these things that are done, but a lot of times, the common everyday person and kids and adults that are visual learners or kin synthetic learners aren't going to get that message as clearly. CAVANAUGH: Angela, what is the message here though? Is it to stop buying plastic? Don't throw things in the ocean? What can people take away from this exhibit? POZZI: Well, I think everybody takes away something a little different. But I think the basic information is we use too much plastic for everything. And really we need to start hooking at other solutions. This is not an exhibit that blames anybody. It's basically we're all part of this. We always use plastic in our everyday life, and we can't avoid it. It's not a totally evil thing. But we need to think about our choices and look at alternatives as much as possible. So we don't end up having classic pollution on the earth. CAVANAUGH: Brian, will the center be localizing this exhibit? Is there a plan for kind of perm nance maybe? JOSEPH: One of the sculptures Angela is making for us is a leopard shark. That leopard shark is going to stay here after the exhibit is over. CAVANAUGH: Ah, ha. JOSEPH: We'll be able to take it out to sponsors, and schools. Angela and I have had some preliminary conversations about having some other activities in San Diego, maybe another sculpture designed for San Diego, and stays in San Diego. CAVANAUGH: And where will you be talking this exhibit next, Angela? POZZI: Well, we are very close to confirming that. But I can't say yet. [ LAUGHTER ] POZZI: We tour it around the nation, and so we are booking it out into the future, and pretty soon we'll be ready for that announcement. Of CAVANAUGH: Let me tell everyone, the exhibit runs through September 3rd. The washed ashore project can be seen at the living coast discovery center in Chula Vista. Thank you very much. JOSEPH: Thank you Maureen. POZZI: Thank you so much.

The Chula Vista Nature Center changed its name to the Living Coast Discovery Center last month, and the first exhibit under the new moniker is Washed Ashore, which turns trash into art to call attention to ocean pollution.

“The time was right for us to select a name that better reflects our mission, which is to inspire care and exploration of the living Earth by connecting people with coastal animals, plants and habitats,” says Dr. Brian Joseph, executive director for the center. “Our new brand more accurately positions us as a regional destination for family entertainment and education, and also broadens the reach of the organization as we seek the corporate and community partnerships critical for our ongoing sustainability.”

Faced with severe budget cuts in Fall 2009, the Nature Center successfully transitioned from the City of Chula Vista to an independent, nonprofit organization. The City of Chula Vista had opened the facility on the scenic Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in 1987. The center welcomes nearly 70,000 visitors each year, including hundreds of school field trips.


The Washed Ashore Exhibit features a collection of sculptures by Angela Haseltine Pozzi. Her art uses plastic debris picked up from the beaches and then turned into large marine animal sculptures. The art is visually attractive but on closer inspection reveals debris that has come from places like China.

"The Washed Ashore Exhibit is actually part of a project, the Washed Ashore Project, that is an ongoing project based in Bandon, Oregon," says Haseltine Pozzi, " We gather garbage up off the beaches constantly. Most of the stuff that we get off the beach is coming from the middle of the ocean or from overseas. We process it by hosing it down and sorting it and scrubbing it and soaking, drilling it. That's done by volunteers of all ages and then I do all of the designing and the arranging and I'm the lead artist and the director of the project. Now why we are doing it is a huge issue. Why we are doing it is probably the most important and that is to raise awareness about the problem. The plastic pollution problem in the ocean is huge and it is affecting every beach in the entire world. And it's basically because humans have created this thing called plastic which lasts forever and right not in this day and age, we are producing 200 billion [pounds] a year of plastic. About 4% is being recycled or up cycled. And the rest of it is here on earth."

Haseltine Pozzi describes one of her smaller art pieces, the Flip Flop Fish.

Washed Ashore: Flip Flop Fish

The Washed Ashore Exhibit runs through September 3 at the Living Coast Discovery Center (1000 Gunpowder Point Drive in Chula Vista).