Gyre: The Plastic Ocean Exhibit
Colorful bits of plastic from Kehoe Beach in California.
Judith Selby and Richard Lang, "Shovel Bands," digital print.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program teamed up with Anchorage Museum in Alaska to open a marine debris exhibit.

What’s the project?

Gyre: The Plastic Ocean, is a unique science and art exhibition located at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska. Gyre tells a global marine debris story through the work of 26 artists hailing from Australia to Finland, as well as a National Geographic film, documentary photography, and hands-on activities for families.

What does it accomplish?

The 7,500-square-foot exhibition, featuring more than 80 artworks, brings the marine debris problem into perspective for its visitors. It examines the global “big picture” and the complex relationship between humans, the ocean, and a culture of consumption, all the way down to how debris affects the pristine Alaska wilderness.

The exhibition features findings of a 2013 expedition to study marine debris in Alaska. The boat carried scientists, including the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Alaska Coordinator, as well as artists, educators and documentary filmmakers. In just one day at Hallo Bay, a brown bear haven in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, the expedition team removed four tons of debris, including fly swatters, fishing gear, and plastic bottles, from the coastline. Some of the artwork in the exhibition incorporates trash gathered during that journey.

Take a look at this video highlighting the expedition from National Geographic producer J.J. Kelley:

Who’s involved?

Gyre was organized by the Alaska SeaLife Center and the Anchorage Museum, with contributions from multiple organizations and artists. The NOAA Marine Debris Program partnered with the Anchorage Museum on this project as part of its Prevention through Education and Outreach Partnership grants.

The exhibit is titled Gyre: The Plastic Ocean. What does it say about plastics?

Gyre acknowledges the key role plastics have played in everything from modern medicine to automobile safety. However, since plastic in the marine environment is recognized as a significant problem, the exhibition does ask visitors to examine their personal plastic footprint — how they use plastics, and how they re-use or dispose them.

What’s something unique about this project?

The exhibition not only integrates art with science, it includes hands-on activities that help inspire and educate visitors. For example, in the "Trash Talk" interactive, visitors choose from pieces of marine debris that have been collected in Alaska and place the debris on a pedestal. This triggers a multimedia presentation telling the unique story about that piece of trash – what it is, where it came from, where it was collected, how long it would take to break down in the environment.

When can the public see it?

The exhibit is open from February 7 – September 6, 2014 at the Anchorage Museum. It will be repackaged for travel around the United States, but there is no set schedule at this time.