After over a year between visits I recently made the trip home to Western Australia for my childhood friend’s wedding as well as my grandmother’s 80th Birthday. I love living in Adelaide and am truly grateful for all the opportunities it has to offer as well as the fantastic friends I have made but gee it’s nice to go home sometimes! It’s great to catch up with everyone and spend time in the place where my love affair with beach combing began. I feel so connected to the environment in WA and when I am home, I always make an effort to travel down to my favourite beaches to take the dog (and usually some unsuspecting friend or relative) for a walk to comb the shore line for plastic gems.
Collecting micro plastic for my exhibition pieces always leaves me with contradicting emotions. On the one hand, the process of searching through the sand in front of the beautiful ocean is peaceful and meditative. It is like a never ending treasure hunt where there is always something new to discover and I am absolutely elated when I find my next precious plastic jewel. I love the way the ocean wears the pieces of plastic beyond recognition, leaving only a trace of the original item. On the other hand, I am horrified that these tiny fragments of plastic are being ingested by beautiful sea creatures and destroying the ocean with toxic chemicals as they break down.
My home town is Fremantle and given our close proximity to the busy port, I never have to search too far to find a whole bunch of junk washed up on the beach. In my local area, the best beach for plastics is Port Beach, just north of the Swan River mouth. Around this time of year, seaweed lines the shores and invariably, under ever single clump, lies a trove of deadly treasure.
When I collect, I first scour the surface as I walk, removing the larger items that I see. It is not often that I keep this part of the collection as it mainly consists of discarded water bottles, take away cups, lost sunglasses and thongs (flip flops for those in the UK), or used dog poo bags. Yuck! I collect it all up, discard the dog poo bags and take the rest with me to sort and recycle at home rather than using the beach bins which go straight to landfill. From there I get down onto the sand, inevitably doing several hundred squats and lunges, lifting each mound of seaweed to reveal tiny fragments of plastic as I go. I scour through the seaweed, pray to the gods that a dog hasn’t marked its territory on each mound, then collect my precious bounty.
After many hours spent gathering plastics and removing whatever nasty rubbish I can, I go home to clean and sort the collection. I remove and recycle the large pieces I don’t need, then wash the plastic fragments using water and a sieve. I dry the fragments and sort them into different containers depending on size. The large pieces which are interesting enough to avoid the recycling bin are kept aside. I often like the look of these bits as they are more recognisable than their smaller plastic friends, however, have yet to release a range large enough to accommodate them, so into the studio hoard they go. Small plastics range from around 5mm – 15mm and are kept for my Plastic Soup Sculptures. Microplastics, which range from 0.1mm to 5mm and are the most time consuming to find and most deadly to marine creatures as they are often mistaken for a tasty treat. These tiny specks are sorted into colour and reserved for Plastic Soup jewellery.
My Plastic Soup Sculptures and Adornment house only a minute proportion of the devastating quantities of plastic choking our oceans and shorelines. Given the drastic consequences our waste has on these fragile ecosystems, it seems crazy that we aren’t doing more. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of tackling the world’s plastic issues but if everyone did their bit by rejecting single use plastic, using a bin and removing just a few pieces of rubbish when they went to the beach we could really start to make some improvements.
For more information on how you can make a difference, visit the fabulous crew at Take 3 on their website or @take3forthesea on Instagram. Originating in Sydney, Australia, Take 3 have started a wonderful community of likeminded beach combers from around the world who are doing their bit for our oceans and documenting it along the way.