Museum Exhibit Gives Perspective To Marine Debris Through Science And Art (PHOTOS)

PHOTOS: Turning Tragic Pollution Into Art

What's the strangest piece of trash you've ever found on the beach? Whether it was as small as a bottle cap or as random as a Pez dispenser, we've all stumbled upon this plastic garbage -- and probably overlooked it.

The Anchorage Museum is shedding light on marine plastics through a 7,500-square-foot exhibition titled "Gyre: The Plastic Ocean." It's intended to bridge the gap between science and art, man and the ocean -- and put this epidemic into perspective. Some of the trash featured in the 80 pieces of artwork was collected during a 2013 scientific expedition that examined marine debris in Alaska. The exhibit also features interpretive panels, films and interactive displays, so there is something for everyone.

“Humankind has certainly imposed its footprint on this landscape, but we have not ruined it,” Anchorage Museum director and exhibition curator Julie Decker said in a press release. “Plastic is a modern material, so this is a modern and recent problem. That means there are things we can do, individually and collectively, to reverse the impacts.”

Marine plastic debris impacts the environment, economy and human health in a variety of ways, according to the EPA. For example, fishing line can catch a boat's propellors and cause damage, or entangle with marine animals; sea turtles can mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and consume them; and tires can sink to the seafloor and smother coral reefs. There aren't exact estimates on how much marine plastic debris is in the ocean, but the Ocean Conservancy collected 10 million pounds of trash in one day during its 2012 International Coastal Cleanup.

Check out these photos below for a glimpse inside "Gyre: The Plastic Ocean." The exhibit opened in early February and will run until September 6, 2014.

Chris Arend/Anchorage Museum
Cynthia Minet, "Sled Dogs," post-consumer plastic and LEDs, 2013. Part of the "Unsustainable Creatures" series. Minet is known for her series of large-scale animal sculptures made from recycled plastic. She says the visible use of electricity in her sculptures is a comment on waste, but also a reflection on the complicated relationships we have with the world we inhabit.
Chris Arend/Anchorage Museum
Mark Dion, "Cabinet of Marine Debris," mixed media. As seen in "Gyre: The Plastic Ocean" at the Anchorage Museum.
Chris Arend/Anchorage Museum
Rebecca Lyon, "Plastic Death," mixed media, Pratt Museum collection. As an Alaska Native artist, Rebecca Lyon mixes traditional and contemporary design and materials to highlight her culture’s reverence for the natural world. In this work the human face of death spouts plastic trash and rides the whale. Harpooned by plastic spears, the whale’s belly carries plastic, demonstrating that convenience has had unexpected, toxic results. As seen in "Gyre: The Plastic Ocean" at the Anchorage Museum.
Chris Arend/Anchorage Museum
Pam Longobardi, "Dark and Plentiful Bounty," mixed media, 2014. As seen in "Gyre: The Plastic Ocean" at the Anchorage Museum.
Sue Ryan/Anchorage Museum
Sue Ryan, "Ghost Dog," recycled wire, synthetic ghost net, beach rope, thread. Ryan is an Australia-based artist who works with the Ghost Nets organization. Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been abandoned at sea, accidentally or deliberately. They travel the oceans, continually fishing as they progress through water. To date the Ghost Nets organization has removed more than 12,000 free-floating fishing nets from the natural environment. Ryan often depicts the dogs of remote Australian communities using materials found in the coastal environment.
John Dahlsen/Anchorage Museum
John Dahlsen, "Thongs," digital print on canvas. This large-format photograph -- 9 feet wide by 4 feet tall -- is a bird's eye view of more than 1,000 post-consumer sandals. The artist collected the discarded thongs, mainly on Australia's more remote beaches
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