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Turning Trash Into Art

At Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, stunning artworks relay an unforgettable environmental message

Rachel McClary

Published on: July 18, 2017

One of the artworks in 'Washed Ashore.' Photo courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
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One of the artworks in 'Washed Ashore.' Photo courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
A child interacts with one of the artworks in 'Washed Ashore.' Photo courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
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One of the artworks in 'Washed Ashore.' Photo courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
One of the artworks in 'Washed Ashore.' Photo courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
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One of the artworks in 'Washed Ashore.' Photo courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
One of the artworks in 'Washed Ashore.' Photo courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
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Photo courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
The Wildest Show in the West is a brand-new show. Photo courtesy Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
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“I can’t find the hairbrush on the penguin!” This is not something I often hear my kids exclaim during a visit to the zoo; but Gertrude the penguin is an animal of a different kind. Gertrude is one of 10 giant sculptures, made entirely from trash washed up by the ocean, which are on display at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium this summer as part of Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea. The travelling exhibit is on view until October 21.

Washed Ashore is the brainchild of artist and educator Angela Haseltine Pozzi. Distressed by the volume of plastic washed up on her beloved Oregon beaches, she cleaned up the beaches and transformed the plastic into artistic creations to raise awareness of the problems of plastic pollution in the Earth’s oceans. The artist and her team of volunteers clean the plastic, sort it into colors and create the sculptures in Bandon, Oregon. They have created almost 70 to date.

As you wander the zoo, it's impossible to miss these colorful characters. They are eye-catching from a distance, but are best seen up close to admire the skill and artistry of each piece. Flattened green bottles have become seaweed. Hundreds of clear bottles filled with blue string form the base of an anemone. You can walk beneath a 12-foot tall jellyfish to examine its tentacles.

Each animal comes with an I-spy activity that encourage visitors to find the objects within. Staring at the sculptures intently, my kids were particularly interested in the larger objects that had been found on the beach, such as car bumpers, tires, chairs, and, of course, that hairbrush. You can pick up a guide to the Washed Ashore exhibit next to any sculpture with additional facts about plastic pollution.

“We brought this exhibit to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium to emphasize our deep commitment to teaching our visitors that their daily actions have consequences far beyond what they might imagine,” said Karen Povey, the zoo’s Curator of Conservation Engagement.

Check the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium calendar to find a schedule of related events and activities. The website also provides visitors with real-world tools to “Go Plastic-Free to Save Our Sea,” which is the overarching message of the exhibit.

Wonder Worlds outdoor theater

More wild fun at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

The zoo abounds with more educational and fun activities this summer.

The Wildest Show in the West: Held twice a day at noon and 3:30 p.m., this brand-new, live-action animal show is presented at the Wild Wonders Outdoor Theater and features more than a dozen of the zoo’s most engaging animals.The star of the show is Sheruff Bones (aka Herald the dog), who teaches a newcomer in town how small actions like using rechargeable batteries and reuseable water bottles, shopping bags and lunch containers can have big results. The show has audience participation, giveaways, humor, fascinating animals and shares an important environmental message.

Explore the Shore: Join naturalists from Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium at free summer programs as they explore low tides, which open up a world of animals that most people can’t normally see because they’re underwater. Participants become citizen scientists for the day, helping count the number and kinds of animals found on the shore. Explore the Shore walks last approximately 90 minutes and are held at Owen Beach in Point Defiance Park. Walks are recommended for ages 5 and older and reservations are not required.

The next Explore the Shore events will be held on Monday, July 24 at 11:30 a.m.; Monday, Aug. 7 at 10:45 a.m.; and Monday, Aug. 21 at 10:30 a.m.

Another event for exploring tide pools called Tiptoe through the Tidepools will take place at Titlow Beach at the West end of Sixth Avenue on Monday, July 24, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.

If you go ...

When: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's summer hours through Sept. 4 are 9:30 a.m–6 p.m. daily.

Cost: Admission is $7.95–$17.95 (ages 2 and under free); buy online at for a discount.

Facts about ocean pollution and plastic waste to share with your kids

  • About eight million tons of plastics – the equivalent of a dump truck load every minute – winds up in the ocean every year.
  • 500 million plastic straws are used and discarded daily in the US, enough to fill 127 school buses. Plastic straws make the top ten of items picked up on beach clean ups.
  • About 300 million pounds of plastic is produced globally each year– only 10 percent is recycled.
  • 80 percent of the plastic in our seas comes from land sources, from streets to streams to rivers to oceans.

Get crafty: For our school's Art Walk, my kids and I created a piece inspired by Washed Ashore titled Swimming through Plastic. It featured origami fish "swimming" between strips of plastic bags and colorful ornaments made from plastic. If your children enjoy creating things, why not encourage them to collect plastic waste and create a similar art piece or design one of their own?


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