Sculpture by Saint Andrews artist, Matthias Weiss, to raise awareness of marine debris

Barb Rayner/Courier "White Trash" a sculpture made out of marine debris by Saint Andrews artist Matthias Weiss has found a new home at the Fundy Discovery Aquarium. Pictured with the sculpture after it arrived this week are (from left) Krista Beardy, the Huntsman Marine Science Centre's new marine debris program coordinator, Weiss, Julie Glaser, Huntsman's marketing and development coordinator, and Cynthia Callahan, aquarium manager.

Sculpture will raise awareness about marine debris

Saint Andrews – A sculpture of a man, made out of Styrofoam picked up along the beach, will be on display at the Fundy Discovery Aquarium, to draw awareness to marine debris.

“White Trash” is the work of local artist, Matthias Weiss, and was part of the exhibit of Charlotte County artists’ work, at the Sunbury Shores Arts and Nature Centre in December.

After seeing it, said Julie Glaser, marketing and development coordinator for the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, both she, and the centre’s residence services manager, Nancy Leavitt, thought the sculpture would be a great way to publicise the Huntsman’s marine debris program.

Weiss said there was a big “king” tide last spring, which resulted in a lot of garbage being washed up along the shore, and people started cleaning it up so it began piling up.

“I thought can we do something with that? We couldn’t just leave it in a pile so I said maybe it could be combined with art and see what happens. He (Trash Man) is made with Styrofoam, some rebar and I also used spray foam.”

Initially, said Weiss, he didn’t think the piece would sell, so figured he would have to take it home and put it on his lawn, but Sharon McGladdery, executive director of Sunbury Shores, said it was certainly a head turner at the exhibition.

“It did attract a lot of attention. It got a lot of kids talking to their mum and dad about marine debris. As a poster child, it just made sense.”

The marine debris program at the Huntsman began in 2015, and Krista Beardy just recently took over the position as the program coordinator.

The main purpose of the program is to study the movement of marine debris through the Bay of Fundy, as well as inspire local environmental stewardship through the education and engagement of the community, in the greater appreciation and understanding of the ocean.

In doing this, it is hoped to prevent debris, from any source, from entering the ocean, as well as to organize and facilitate the removal of existing debris. This includes everything from household garbage, to dilapidated fishing and aquaculture gear.

It is a well documented fact that marine debris affects the general health of coastal communities – affecting not just the environment but also the local economy, public health and safety. In light of this, the education and inclusion of community members and stakeholders, is a fundamental part of the Huntsman’s program.

The program has been without a coordinator for the past nine months, said Glaser, and Beardy comes from a diverse background that fits into the mandate of the Huntsman.

Beardy, who comes from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, has been interested in the issue of marine debris for almost a decade, when the avid outdoorswoman discovered the sport of sea kayaking.

After gaining her Paddle Canada certification, she became a local kayak guide, and was surprised at the amount of garbage she and clients would encounter over the course of the day.

This inspired her to present her tours from a more environmentally conscious perspective, educating her clients on the importance of marine conservation issues, using the ever-present garbage as an instructive tool.

Beardy holds a B.Sc in biology from Dalhousie University (2002) and returned for further study in the environmental sciences program from 2014 to 2016.

In her position at the Huntsman, she said she will be working fairly closely with the Marine Advisory Committee and is hoping to put a really strong community spin on this getting everybody from children to adults to industry stakeholders involved.

“We are in a really unique position to help bring awareness of marine debris and having White Trash here as a focal point. We are thankful to have this figurehead and to design some messaging and programs around it,” said Glaser.

“We have about 30,000 visitors come here to the aquarium from all over the world. In addition, there are about half a million who come through Saint Andrews so there is a great opportunity to do public education regarding marine debris.”

She said there is an opportunity for Sunbury Shores and the Huntsman to work together on marine debris art coming up in the summer.

“This is a great spring board for long term involvement in environmental awareness and education to reduce debris. There are always ways to spread awareness,” said McGladdery.

White Trash will be introduced to children during the March break programs offered at the aquarium. The plan is to have an official unveiling of the sculpture, and do a marine debris program.

The aquarium will be open from March 2 to 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the school break and admission will be by donation. There will be day camps in the afternoons, with different themes.

Current estimates state that more than one million birds, and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles, die annually from the direct effects (ingestion, entanglements) of marine debris, much of which are plastics.

This debris can also sink and cover benthic flora and fauna, potentially destroying the entire ecosystem. Marine debris can also facilitate the dispersion of invasive species over very long distances.

Debris can break down into smaller particles, and eventually its component parts and, in doing so, increase the uptake potential of other environmental toxins.

There are also economic and social issues that arise due to marine debris, particularly for those living or making a living in coastal communities.

At this size, the plastics (and the absorbed toxins) can be easily consumed by smaller organisms and move up the food chain until affected fish make it to market.

In encountering large debris, fishing vessels and gear can be damaged or lost, contributing to the overall program, while the opportunity to grow the local tourism industry can be affected due to unsightly, and potentially dangerous, debris along the coastlines.