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Plastics, sea life, and art wash ashore (photos)

At the Marine Mammal Center in Northern California, the ocean's waste gets converted into environmental art.

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Henry the Fish

SAUSALITO, Calif.--The vision of the Marine Mammal Center here is to expand public knowledge of marine mammals, their health, and that of their ocean environment.

With the hope of inspiring global conservation, the center this summer is hosting a marine garbage exhibit by artist Angela Haseltine Pozz. Pozz's art turns the ugly reality of humans' discarded, ocean-borne waste into sculptures.

"Henry the Fish" is a sculpture made of ocean debris, plastics, aluminum cans, dish soap bottles, and old toys floating in the ocean.

Plastic degrading in the ocean poses a threat to marine life. Not only can animals get sick or injured from eating plastic items, but plastic also attracts dangerous chemicals. As these chemical-laden plastics are ingested by fish, which are then eaten by bigger fish, the contaminants slowly make their way up the food chain, in turn endangering turtles, seals, sharks, and humans.

The Washed Ashore exhibit continues at the Marine Mammal Center through October 15.
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Fish Bites

Each piece of plastic used to create "Fish Bites" has been nibbled by sea life, the edges riddled with bite marks from fish looking for food.
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Sea Star

There are 2,000 species of sea stars--invertebrates that have no brains and no blood--in the world.

This giant sculpture, which doubles as a playable musical instrument when the bottles are filled with water, is composed of glass and plastic bottles found on the beaches of Oregon, some of which originated from around the world.

There's even a water bottle with an imprint from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

See our slideshow of the science and technology that helps the Marine Mammal Center save sick and injured sea animals: "The science of ocean rescue and rehab"
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Flip Flop Fish

At beaches around the world, flip flops are standard footwear. But the polyurethane used to make many of these beach sandals is made from crude oil, making them difficult to recycle.

It's not only the used footwear that poses a danger, but the discarded rounds from the manufacturing process also end up in the oceans, some of which were found washed ashore and used to create this sculpture.
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In addition to animals thinking our garbage is food and ingesting it, the danger of entanglement is another major threat to sea life.

"Seal," shown here, is made of synthetic rope, plastic pieces, and steel, highlighting the dangers posed to animals caught in nets and twists of plastic, which restrict their movement and cut into skin, causing thousands of injuries and deaths each year.
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Whale Bones

While small fish and marine life slowly nibble on ocean plastics, the sea garbage poses a threat to larger sea life as well.

The recent deaths of two sperm whales on California's northern coast highlights that danger. These two whales were found to have died after eating hundreds of pounds of debris including nets and plastic bags.

This eerie hanging sculpture depicting a whale's ribcage is made of bottles, milk jugs, and other large white plastic collected from California beaches.
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Squid are some of the more mysterious sea creatures. Many people see the tiny ones, served as calamari, at the dinner table. But these intelligent invertebrates can reach lengths of up to 46 feet and live at depths of 7,200 feet.
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Bleached Coral Reef

Up to 25 percent of all marine species live in and around coral reefs; healthy reefs are essential to healthy oceans, providing food and shelter for fish.

However, toxins, ships, careless divers, fishing, and trash are threatening these delicate habitats, with some estimates predicting that by 2050, 70 percent of all reefs may be destroyed.

This sculpture, made of polystyrene and Styrofoam, depicts a decimated reef devoid of life.
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Sea Turtle

Around the world, sea turtles are being threatened, with six of the seven species designated as threatened or endangered.

Plastic bags used to make this sculpture, along with pieces of garbage cans, rope, and bottles, can easily block turtles' digestive system and lead to their deaths.

In the United States alone, more than 380 billion plastic bags are used and discarded each year.
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Oil Spill

Black plastics, brown bottles, and wire make up this sculpture, depicting an oil spill, on the upper deck of the Marine Mammal Center.
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Sea jellies

Gelatinous zooplankton called sea jellies, depicted in this hanging piece made of plastic bags, water bottles, and polystyrene, have been found with colorful plastic particles embedded in their translucent bodies.
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A gyre is a large, spinning ocean vortex caused by Earth's weather patterns and trade winds. There are five of them in the oceans around the world, and the North Pacific Gyre between Asia and North America covers 20 million square kilometers and is estimated to be swirling with 11 million tons of plastic and trash.

The Washed Ashore exhibit continues at the Marine Mammal Center through October 15.

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