Environmental sculpture to highlight the plastic pollution crisis
By Heidi Sutton
The community came out to Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park last Sunday morning to celebrate the unveiling of Shelley the Sea Turtle, a six-foot metal sculpture that was installed at Field 1 to serve as a teaching tool to bring attention to the plastic pollution crisis around the world. It is the first of its kind in New York state.
The installation was made possible by a grant from The Long Island Futures Fund, an organization that supports projects that aim to protect and restore the Long Island Sound and unites federal and state agencies, foundations and corporations to achieve high-priority conservation objectives.
The unique 3-D piece was created by artist Jim Swaim of Environmental Sculptures who attended the June 2 event. Based in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the company designs and builds large metal renditions of animals with the sole purpose to create art that inspires action. The sculptures are hollow and the community is encouraged to fill them with plastic items that would otherwise litter the landscape or waterways.
Since 2014, the company has installed over 20 environmental sculptures across the country in the shape of pelicans, whales, fish, frogs and a buffalo to, according to its website, “Serve as visual symbol of why we should protect the environment we enjoy.”
The unveiling, which was preceded by a beach cleanup, was hosted by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society and the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
“This outstanding metal sculpture was undertaken for a very, very important reason — to highlight the importance of combating plastic pollution in Long Island Sound and all our waterways throughout the state, throughout the country and indeed throughout the world,” said Brian X. Foley, deputy regional director of the Long Island region for the state’s park system at the unveiling.
Plastic pollution is a global epidemic and considered one of three top concerns for ocean health. According to National Geographic, 73 percent of all beach litter is plastic and includes filters from cigarette butts, bottles, bottle caps, food wrappers, grocery bags and polystyrene containers.
“Today’s event is about combining art with the environment in order to fight plastic pollution.” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, concurred. “Seals, turtles, whales, dolphins unfortunately are eating all of the plastic pollution that humans are leaving on the beach that washes out into the sea and when they ingest that plastic pollution it kills them,” she said.
George “Chip” Gorman, deputy regional director for New York state parks spoke about how the new sculpture complements the recent environmentally sensitive renovations to the park and a new environmental education center. “[Shelley] is going to educate people as they walk by that eliminating plastic will protect the environment but will also protect sea mammals and it’s a great project,” he said.
Chief Scientist Robert A. DiGiovanni Jr. of the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society was hopeful for the future. “We are seeing more sea turtles and humpback whales in the Long Island Sound. We can make a difference about marine debris. There’s no reason why it needs to be there and to pick it up and move it off the beach is pretty easy,” he said.
“Clearly there has been a sea change in public attitude about plastics and it’s because of people like you who are taking a stand,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Port Jefferson).“We were successful in our plastic straw ban, our polystyrene ban, in reducing water bottle use and the plastic bag ban that now is statewide because people like you have said ‘No more.’ We don’t want to litter our landscape. We want to take care of what we have and we need to continue that fight,” she said.
The event concluded on a symbolic note, with children and students from Northport High School filling Shelley with plastic debris.
“Shelley will be a symbol for how important it is to remove the plastic that you bring onto the beach and maybe never bring any more the next time you come,” said Hahn.
Photos by Heidi Sutton