Each year, millions of tons of plastic get diverted, intentionally or accidentally, into the world’s oceans. This has been going on for decades and has created some pretty ugly scenes: huge islands of plastic swirling in the Pacific, coastlines frothing with shampoo bottles and candy wrappers, animal stomachs filled with detritus.

It’s a problem that is only growing as plastic consumption rises in countries everywhere and it poses a major threat to marine life. Big and little pieces are mistaken for food and cause health problems for animals. As plastic deteriorates it leaches toxic chemicals into the water. And as plastic crumbles into smaller and smaller pieces it can blanket the seafloor, disrupting plant life.

So what can be done? Fortunately, a lot of people are waking up to the tragedy of treating the oceans like dumpsters and are starting to take action. From scientists to governments to corporations, innovative solutions are being devised to clean up the oceans and prevent plastic from getting into waterways in the first place.

Read More: 10 Super Cool Products Your Recycled Materials Could Become

Then there are the artists, who see the grime of ocean waste as an opportunity for beauty. Through the transformative power of art, people are bringing awareness to the problem of plastic waste in thought-provoking and charming ways.

Here are 5 artists turning ocean pollution into something beautiful:

1/ Washed Ashore

Washed Ashore collects trash that has been gathered by community clean-up efforts along beaches. The trash is then cleaned, sorted, and prepared, and then an artist conceives of a sculpture that evokes marine life and uses a significant amount of plastic. Since the organization's launch in 2010, their team has helped clean more than 300 miles of beach. 

2/ Daydreamers Design

Daydreamers Design collected 4,800 five-gallon water bottles to create this immense sphere of light. Suggesting traditional Chinese paper lanterns, the "Rising Moon" project was installed in Hong Kong in 2013. The bottles contain LED torches and during it's display, a light show would be choreographed, reflecting off the water and illuminating the pavillion. 

3/ Mandy Barker

The photographer Mandy Barker created scenes of plastic gathered from more than 30 different beaches in Hong Kong, a city that dumps 1,826 tons of plastic to landfills each day. The plastic in "Hong Kong Soup: 1826" are shards of color suspended in dark emptiness,  suggesting an explosion or disintegration, or that nature has no place for this artificial waste. 

4/ TuulaNärhinen

The Finnish sculptor Tuula Närhinen used plastic debris washed up on the Harakka Island to construct various creatures. She then put the creatures in the water and filmed and photographed them as if they were sea creatures. Finally, she displayed the photographs as if the plastic frankensteins were scientific specimens. 

5/ Pascale Marthine Tayou

Plastic bags are ubiquitous and to convey the sheer scale of their presence in the world, Pascale Marthine Tayou created an immense, bullet-like sculpture of plastic bags. The many colors of the bags suggest something happy and carnivalesque, but the ragged material of the bags shatters that illusion. The plastic bags, which are often discarded and end up drifting through the world, are also intended to imply homelessness: there is no home for plastic in nature.  


Defend the Planet

5 Artists Who Turn Ocean Pollution Into Something Beautiful

By Joe McCarthy