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Hawaii News | Ocean Watch

Marine debris becomes art in the hands of the dedicated

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This week I was going to write about an extraordinary green sea turtle named Rhino Kai. That little turtle, however, will now get his story told next week because when I returned from Mexico, my email in-box was so awash with marine debris I decided to talk trash instead.

News about ocean litter was arriving in waves because the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference is being held at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort this week. Sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United Nations Environment Program, this meeting gathers international scientists, industry representatives, government managers, policymakers, private organizations and artists to come up with ways of dealing with the plastic junk plaguing our oceans. The conference is sold out, but several marine debris- related events are open to the public, and in this case, trash will be fun. Organizers have gathered ocean junk art from international artists, and Oahu children, for programs and displays.

The notion of viewing marine debris as art material rather than garbage has been gaining momentum worldwide, including in my house. For the past few years I’ve been making trash art from cigarette lighters that albatrosses pluck out of the ocean, and from flotsam and jetsam at Midway, Tern Island and beaches around Oahu.

I make my fishing-float turtles and plastic lighter albatrosses for home decoration only, but they’ve been invited out. And they’re in outstanding company. The art pieces on display this week from around the world are stunning, doing what art does best: inspire, entertain, educate, disturb, provoke thought and promote discussion.

The subject of marine debris is a gloomy one, but gathering those who can make a difference, raising public awareness and sharing ideas through art are all positive steps forward.

You can support these efforts by going to the free events sponsored by a variety of local and national groups. Free and open to the public this week:

» Today, 7-9 p.m.: “Bag It” film at cafe/lounge/art gallery Bambu, 1144 Bethel St. (Surfrider Foundation).

» Today through Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily: “The Sixth Gyre: Art, Oceans and Plastic Pollution,” on display in the Oahu Room at the Waikiki Beach Marriott.

» Through Thursday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily: “Art and the Ocean, the Architecture of Plastic,” Marine debris art exhibition, UH-Manoa campus, School of Architecture gallery (U.N. Safe Planet Campaign).

» Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m.: Reception at the above UH exhibit featuring film, speakers and entertainment.

» Friday, 4-7 p.m.: Talk by professional surfer Mary Osborne, Patagonia store, Hono­lulu

» Friday, 6-9 p.m.: “Catch the Drift” art, entertainment and educational displays, Ocean Tower lobby, Outrigger Reef on the Beach ($5 valet parking).

» Saturday, 6-9:30 p.m.: “Rise Above Plastics (RAP) party,” Waikiki Aquarium and Surfrider Foundation (marine debris art exhibit in lobby open all day to all aquarium visitors).

I’ll be attending these events for Rhino Kai.


Susan Scott can be reached at

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