Flash the marlin is a fine fish and a fine piece of trash. Standing just outside the National Zoo’s visitor center, he is poised, mouth open, to make a splash in a wave of turquoise fishing nets and clear plastic bottles. His gills, made from toilet seats, are rather dirty; his long bill, narrowing to a point that seems sharp enough to pierce a small fish — or at least a plastic trash bag — is made from three fishing rods.
His eyes — well, if the eyes are a window into the soul, Flash’s soul has seen better days. His creator, pointing to one of the sculpture’s large silvery eyes, says it was made from a mayonnaise lid, a beer can, a motor oil container and a silver sandal. The socket was made from a deflated Cinderella beach ball.
Flash, an 850-pound sculpture made almost entirely of plastic trash that washed up on Oregon beaches, is one of 17 larger-than-life marine sculptures that will be on display at the National Zoo starting Friday.
Made by a team of artists and volunteers led by Angela Haseltine Pozzi, “Washed Ashore,” which will run through September 5, is an art exhibition with a message. As Haseltine Pozzi (pronounced Hazel-teen POTS-ee) puts it: “Plastic pollution is just choking the ocean. It’s hurting the animals, and we have to change our consumer habits.”
A former art teacher from Washington state, Haseltine Pozzi grew up spending summers at a cabin in the seaside town of Bandon, Oregon. She turned to the ocean after the death of her husband, Craig Pozzi, from a brain tumor in 2004.
One afternoon a few years after her husband’s death, she looked down at one of her favorite beaches and saw a line of “tiny little plastics” stretched across the shore “as far as your eye could see.” The plastic bits were pieces of trash that had washed up with the waves. Noticing beachcombers searching for shells farther down the shore, she decided she needed to find a way “to get those people to pick up that stuff” — trash, pounds and pounds of it.
Haseltine Pozzi, now 58, decided that turning trash into beautiful art, showing some of the animals most affected by ocean pollution, was the solution. In 2010 she founded Washed Ashore, a nonprofit organization, and in the past six years, she says, the group has collected about 18 tons of garbage from more than 300 miles of Oregon coastline. With help from volunteers, the organization has made more than 65 sculptures, with more on the way. The sculptures travel around the country — a dozen are on display at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta — while the trash continues to wash ashore on beaches around the world.
How much plastic is in the ocean? Mary Hagedorn, a scientist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute who studies coral reefs in Hawaii, says it’s at least 315 billion pounds. These plastics are “having a huge impact on the animals,” she says. Plastic nets can strangle turtles, fish and even coral. Tiny plastic bits — tossed by the waves and ground down to become as tiny as grains of sand — can kill animals that mistakenly eat them.
The trash often makes it into the sea by flowing down rivers and sewer lines or by being blown into the water from landfills. Hagedorn and Haseltine Pozzi recommend recycling and using reusable bags instead of the plastic bags you might get at a store.
“Don’t feel guilty” about all the plastics you use each day, Haseltine Pozzi says, “but take some action.” If you’re not turning old fishing poles and toilet seats into art, you can at least try to recycle them or donate them.
“When you see everyone working together to make big things happen,” she adds, “it just gives you faith that we can solve some of the tough problems.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea”
Where: National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington.
When: Friday to September 5, open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
For ages: 3 and older.
How much: Free.
● A related exhibition, “Turtle Ocean,” will be on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History starting June 8, World Oceans Day. The exhibit features an endangered hawksbill sea turtle swimming through a partially bleached tropical coral reef.
● The zoo will celebrate World Oceans Day a few days later, on June 11, with crafts and additional art displays made from repurposed materials.