Teaming Up to Tackle Trash

The Trouble with Trash

Our oceans are filled with items that do not belong there. Huge amounts of plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, derelict vessels, and other lost or discarded items enter the marine environment every day. These items are collectively called marine debris. Winds and currents carry marine debris far distances throughout the ocean. This makes marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways.

marine debris, mostly plastics, litters the shoreline of a tropical beach
View of the shoreline of a sea turtle nesting beach on Elliot Key in Biscayne National Park littered with marine debris.

NPS / Katie Hackley

the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's logo and the National Park Service arrowhead logo
Marine Debris displays were made possible through funding from the NOAA Marine Debris program.

NOAA Logo, NPS Logo

A Powerful Partnership

In 2020, the National Park Service teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program to raise awareness about the sources and impacts of marine debris and to encourage individuals to take action to prevent marine debris. This five-year partnership supports the development and installation of outreach and educational exhibits in coastal national parks. Each year, three exhibits plan to be installed resulting in outreach opportunities in up to 15 parks.

Each exhibit reflects the local and regional debris issue and seeks to inspire action through engaging and interactive content. From teaming up with local artists who create sculptures that showcase local issues, to creating traveling displays that reach neighboring schools, each display is unique with its own story to tell.

Marine Debris Displays in Parks

See what has been accomplished so far as a result of this powerful partnership.

a painted mural of the ocean with 3-D trash and aquatic organisms. Within the mural there is an interpretive panel titled "One Big Ocean, One Big Issue" and below that is a map table showing the predominant currents that move marine debris in the ocean
The 3-D mural and interactive map display help bring the issue of marine debris to life at Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.

NPS Photo

One Big Ocean, One Big Issue Exhibit at Bering Land Bridge National Preserve

The marine debris exhibit at Bering Land Bridge National Preserve highlights how our oceans are all connected, and that marine debris can be transported around the world via wind and currents as well as storms and natural disasters. The exhibit, located in the visitor center, includes interpretive panels situated within a 3-D wall mural.

The exhibit also blends in interactive interpretive opportunities. There are call-to-action flip panels and an opportunity for visitors to share their ideas on reducing marine debris. The exhibit also features an interactive map table which lights up to show the path that different types of marine debris may take, highlighting predominant water currents and major communities in the area.

About the Designers:

The 3-D mural was designed and created by Elise Wahl of Timberdoodle Studio. The interactive map table was created by Color-ad inc.

a man in national park service uniform sits on a bench inside a blue acrylic sculpture with ocean trash inside of it. The sculpture sits next to a wayside panel.
The marine debris display at Biscayne National Park is part art, part outreach, and part photo op.

NPS Photo

An Educational Photo Op in Biscayne National Park

The marine debris display at Biscayne National Park’s Dante Fascell Visitor Center is the perfect place for a selfie to help spread the word about marine debris on social media. The display is a circular acyclic sculpture filled with marine debris that appears to be floating in the blue tinted acrylic. Along the sculpture are messages (including hashtags for sharing on social media) about marine debris and the center features a bench, perfect for photo ops. The accompanying wayside has information about marine debris in both English and Spanish, making it the first bilingual marine debris display so far.

Three smiling women, one in National Park Service Uniform pose for a photo in front of a colorful 14-foot sculpture made out of marine debris items secured to a metal shark frame.
From right to left, Aleutia Scott (NPS), Laura Ludwig (CCS), and Cindy Pease Roe (project artist) stand in front of the newly installed shark sculpture at Herring Cove Bathhouse.

NPS Photo / Aleutia Scott

Marine Debris Bites at Cape Cod National Seashore

The marine debris display at Cape Cod National Seashore’s Herring Cove Bathhouse shows visitors that marine debris bites—literally! The display features a 14-foot sculpture of a white shark that is made entirely out of marine debris found along the seashore. The materials were collected by the Center for Coastal Studies’ Beach Brigade, a volunteer group of over 350 members who conducted 27 beach cleanups during 2022. Some of the most common items found during a cleanup are rope, bottle caps, fishing line and lures, straws, and plastic containers—all of which are featured in the shark sculpture.

Visitors are encouraged to spend time with the display to reflect on how they have been impacted by marine debris and what actions they can do to prevent it. The park encourages visitors to share photos of the sculpture and their actions with the hashtag #MarineDebrisBites.

About the Artist:

The creator of the shark sculpture, Cindy Pease Roe, has close ties to Cape Cod, her childhood home. Her love of the ocean and memories of the healthy ecosystem she grew up in raised concerns about the debris she was finding as she strolled along the coastline. This made her question where it came from and how it got there. After educating herself on the issue of marine debris, she became passionate about sharing this knowledge with others. About seven years ago, Cindy founded a company called UpSculpt, a combination of upcycling and sculpture. Through this non-profit, Cindy and her team use art to educate people about the impacts of marine debris and encourage the reuse of household items. She says of her projects, “It is the ultimate upcycle – you are creating something of value that didn’t have value before.”

a hollow metal dolphin sculpture halfway filled with marine debris. A man in National Park Service uniform stands in front of the sculpture and holds a sign that reads "I pledge to keep my ocean clean by inspiring others!" with the hashtag #My Clean Ocean
A park ranger holds up his pledge to keep his ocean clean by "inspiring others!"


My Clean Ocean Display at Cape Lookout National Seashore

The marine debris display at Cape Lookout National Seashore focuses on a “My Clean Ocean” campaign to help reduce the amount of plastic in the marine environment and inspire the public to choose more environmentally friendly choices when making decisions.

The metal dolphin sculpture on Cape Lookout National Seashore’s boardwalk serves as a visual reminder of the negative impacts that human-made debris has on ocean life. The dolphin is hollow, allowing park staff to fill it with marine debris discovered during one their many beach cleanup volunteer opportunities. Although all kinds of things are found along the seashore during a beach cleanup, objects like rope, fishing line and plastic containers end up taking up the bulk of the space in the sculpture. Visitors are encouraged to pledge their support for keeping the ocean clean.

About the Artist:

The metal dolphin sculpture was commissioned by local Jacksonville, North Carolina artist Steve Zawistowski of Stephen Z Metal Designs Inc.. Steve takes pride in “making pieces that do not replicate nature but reflect its essence.”

a large hollow green sea turtle sculpture with openings in the shape of flowers. The sculpture sits in a rocky lava field.
This honu, or Hawaiian green sea turtle, sculpture can be filled with marine debris to further highlight the issue.

NPS Photo

The Trouble with Trash at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park

The marine debris display at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park focuses on wildlife entanglement in marine debris, especially the beloved and endangered honu, or Hawaiian sea turtle.

The display features a large metal sea turtle that is filled with marine debris from beach clean-ups. The wayside encourages visitors to learn from traditional Hawaiian practices and mālama (care for) the ocean through a shared kuleana (responsibility) to practice responsible fishing to maintain the health of the park in balance with people as it has for generations.

In addition to the sculpture and wayside, the park has also installed fishing line collection bins and developed a portable educational kit for rangers to use in their marine debris interpretive programs.

About the Artist:

The honu sculpture was commissioned by Jim Swaim of Environment Sculptures. Jim creates marine debris sculptures which have been displayed around the world.

a life-size metal sculpture of a whale appears to breach from a low wall with underwater mural painted on it. Next to this is a display on wheels with interpretive panels.
The painted mural and mobile display at the newly renovated visitor center.

NPS Photo

Talking Trash at Kenai Fjords National Park

The exhibit at Kenai Fjords National Park’s visitor center highlights how some of the most heavily polluted beaches in the park are, surprisingly, also some of the most remote. Marine debris along the park’s coastline is both domestic and industrial, as well as post-tsunami debris. In 2009, staff, volunteers, and partners removed about nineteen tons of marine debris from coastal habitats! Yet, to truly turn the tide on marine debris, this exhibit shows that we need to prevent it from entering the ocean in the first place.

The exhibit consists of two parts. The first part is a mural exploring the connection between coastal fjord estuaries and marine debris. The mural is a beautiful addition to the existing humpback whale sculpture outside of the newly renovated visitor center. The second part of the exhibit is a mobile display that engages visitors in audience-centered interpretive experiences that empower visitors to take a deeper dive into the marine debris issue through a series of questions, challenges, pledges, and games.

About the Artist

The mural in the exhibit was designed by Jane Kim of Ink Dwell, a studio that “creates art that explore the beauty and complexity of nature.” Jane is a visual artist and science illustrator that has created large scale public art across the country.

Three pop up banners highlighting issues with marine debris stand next to a park ranger in a conference room
Three of the six retractable banners included in the portable display.


Mobile Marine Debris Exhibit at Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial

Marine debris affects the Great Lakes too! The portable display at Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial brings the outreach on the road, highlighting the issues and impacts of marine debris on Lake Erie. This display consists of six retractable banners, a handout for kids, a pledge to protect Lake Erie, and a diorama with audio narration.

See the full text and hear the narrations of the exhibit.

More Photos

See more photos of the NPS-NOAA Marine Debris Displays in parks.

Last updated: July 25, 2023


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