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Tulsa Zoo Hosting Art Exhibit to Get People Thinking About Where Their Trash Ends Up

An 11-foot-tall penguin, a 6-foot-tall river otter and a giant leatherback turtle are among the Tulsa Zoo’s new guests.

"And they’re all made almost entirely of marine debris," said Washed Ashore Executive Director John Tannous. "Marine debris is largely plastic pollution but other types of manmade trash that has been discarded from someone’s home or maybe from a shipping boat or a fishing boat or whatever and ended up in the ocean."

"Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea" is a series of 11 sculptures on display through Jan. 5. Each one is larger-than-life and made entirely of items like plastic bottles and toys recovered from the ocean. Tannous said zoo guests should expect to be overwhelmed.

"When they walk up to it and it’s 11 feet tall and it towers over them and then they realize it’s made entirely of garbage, it gives them a sense of scale. And we’re only collecting debris that washes up on the southern Oregon coast, so you can imagine how bad the problem is worldwide," Tannous said.

Tannous said they’re currently finding plastic water bottles from the 2008 Beijing Olympics on Oregon beaches.

"Right now, scientists are predicting that by 2050, we will have more pounds of plastic garbage in the ocean than we have actual, live fish in the ocean. It’s accumulated over decades, so it’s a problem that’s taken a long time to develop. It’s going to take us a long time to solve," Tannous said.

The exhibit is in Oklahoma for the first time. Edward the leatherback turtle is making his debut at the Tulsa Zoo.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.