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What Goes Around Comes Around

image of ocean plastic project
Project AWARE News

Research scientist, Bonnie Monteleone, from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, USA knows all about plastic. She's been studying the negative affects of plastics in the marine environment for several years.

More recently, she's visited three of five ocean gyres and collected plastics hundreds to thousands of miles from land. Using the well recognized, "Great Wave" by Hokusai circa 1830s, Monteleone illustrates a very different ocean from what Hokusai saw 180 years ago.

We caught up with Bonnie to learn more about micro-plastics and the incredible educational message she has displayed through her art.

Why is your work focused on plastics?

What is it that grabs your attention? That thing that reaches into your conscience and won’t let go?  Like love, especially when you least expect it. It was a similar experience that happened to me when I learned about the problems with plastics in the marine environment. My wake-up call took on its own pertinence. 

Where did this wake-up call take you?

It led me to four open ocean expeditions researching marine plastics, returning with 157 surface samples all containing plastic fragments along with scores of larger plastic objects - many collected thousands of miles away from land. Perplexing, to say the least, is how far and wide plastic pollution extends as it wreaks havoc on the marine life that encounters it.  From the smallest filter feeders to the apex predators, few species, if any, have not been negatively impacted by discarded plastics.

Why did you turn your research into art?

It is one thing to research the problem and it's another to try to communicate it in such a way that it grabs the audience. Sometimes it is the nonverbal and unwritten that best reaches the conscience. Using the plastics I have collected throughout my research, I created a 25-foot wall of ocean waves to share what I witnessed in the open ocean. It attempts to take the viewer out to the North Pacific Garbage Patch, across the South Atlantic, and into the North Atlantic Sargasso Sea. Juxtaposed against the beauty of the open seas is the ubiquitous refuse from our over use of plastics.

What do you hope to achieve with your art?

The images serve to communicate the direct impact on other life, the disposal of these products moving from land to sea and then back on island beaches or in the seafood that we eat; nevertheless, persisting in the environment for hundreds if not a thousand years. Change happens when people become aware of a problem and that is what this art show is all about - allowing those that cannot go offshore the ability to see the problem at sea.

You can learn more about Bonnie's expeditions and inspiration for creating 'What Goes Around Comes Around' at

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