BAR HARBOR — When College of the Atlantic student Phinn Onens helped to necropsy a leatherback turtle last summer, what he found changed his academic trajectory. Onens, a senior at COA, was devastated by the amount of plastic in the turtle’s stomach. Having studied marine conservation and education, he sought a visceral way of educating others about the extent – and deadly nature – of plastic debris in ocean waters. His solution? Art.
For the past month, Onens has been assembling a sculpture made entirely of the plastic he found on Mount Desert Island beaches. The sculpture was scheduled to be unveiled at 5 p.m. on Wednesday in the college’s George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History.
It will remain on display in the museum for several months.
Three or four times a week since November, Onens has been stalking Hulls Cove, Sand Beach, and the Shore Path in Bar Harbor, heading out with a few plastic shopping bags. Each time, he returned with new trash, filling at least four bags with lobster gear, hubcaps, disposable utensils, plastic toys, and bottles. All debris has been carefully washed, sterilized, and recorded.
“I had thought the beach of the national park would be more pristine,” he comments. “But that was only because I hadn’t been searching for it.”
Recently, Onens received some help on his project from the Tremont Middle School seventh and eighth grade science classes. He has already been to the classrooms to talk to the students about marine conservation. In early March the class spent a day at the Dorr Museum helping Onens create the sculpture.
With the students, he hopes to encourage the idea of giving trash value, whether through making musical instruments, art, or something practical.
Onens hopes “to have an impact. I want it to be pleasing, I also want people – and children – to look at it and see the objects.” He’s hoping that people will begin to understand that the toothbrush, the bottle, the yogurt container that fell out of someone’s hands at the dock does not disappear. The sculpture is a benign place for the trash to end up. Too often, he says, it is mistaken for food, or becomes a trap that a marine animal cannot escape.
For more information about the Dorr Museum and Phinn Onens’ sculpture, contact the museum at 207-288-5395 or [email protected] The museum is open by donation from Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.