Plastic Waters at Erie Maritime Museum

Events on the Trails of History between now and the end of April can be found in the usual spot.

Earth Day was Wednesday, so this post from Linda Bolla at the Erie Maritime Museum is timely. The traveling exhibit "Plastic Waters, from the Great Lakes to the Ocean" will remain on view through May 25 July 6. A series of related programs is planned at the Museum and other sites in Erie.

The Erie Maritime Museum's new exhibit, "Plastic Waters, from the Great Lakes to the Ocean," opened April 1st. As we celebrated Earth Day this week, it gave those of us who live on the shores of Lake Erie another opportunity to reflect on both the connectedness of all of the earth's waters, as well as our roles as front line stewards of the Great Lakes, 20% of the world's fresh water.

The core exhibit is the result of a partnership between the 5 Gyres Institute, studying the impact of plastic marine debris in our oceans, and the Alliance for the Great Lakes, who have augmented and sponsored this traveling exhibit since September 2014. What sets Erie Maritime Museum apart as a host site is the number of local partners who have created complementary displays, and, although totally unplanned, how these local partners echo the themes of the traveling exhibit.

Penn State University Behrend Campus students are currently conducting microplastic studies of Lake Erie waters at the mouth of Four Mile Creek. The students' work will add to our knowledge of this new threat to fresh water.

Microbeads and fragments found and photographed by PSU Behrend students

Exhibit panel explaining studies conducted onboard Niagara by Dr. Sherri "Sam" Mason, 2012

A boat hull found during a Presque Isle beach cleanup in March eerily mirrors the exhibit boat hull pulled from the Pacific Ocean by 5 Gyres after the 2011 Japanese tsunami.



98% of the post tsunami marine debris observed was plastic. This statistic is reflected in the findings of PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) at Presque Isle, who developed their own very graphic display for the exhibit from items collected during their annual Adopt-A-Beach programs.


Much of the exhibit focuses on single-use (throwaway) plastic that turns up in Lake Erie. PA Sea Grant and International Coastal Cleanup developed educational displays focusing on alternatives to single-use plastics. Even when these plastics are properly discarded in recycling bins, the majority still end up in landfills, due to a lack of capacity in municipal waste recycling programs. The exhibit also features artwork made by local students using beach clean-up finds and single-use plastics. Accompanying student writings reflect on the need to redesign our throwaway society--profound thoughts for Earth Day, and every day.

Art mask made from coffee lid stoppers

Belle Valley Elementary School 4th graders studied the endangered Lake Erie sturgeon and made this artistic representation reusing foamcore and plastic bottle tops.

A Mercyhurst Prep student made this collagraphic print [I had to look that up - AKF] from plastic garbage collected on an Erie-area beach last fall

Mercyhurst Prep students used acrylic paint and single-use plastic items to create multi-media artworks (above and below)


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