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Washed Ashore

Please note: The Washed Ashore exhibit was hosted as a temporary exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium in the summer of 2022 and is longer on display at our location.

Every year, mankind produces about 300 million pounds of plastic, less than 10 percent of which is recycled. Much of that material lingers in landfills or is blown or washed into waterways, where it eventually makes its way to the ocean.

In the summer of 2022, more than one dozen artistic installations of aquatic animals made from recovered plastic debris were exhibited throughout the campus of the Tennessee Aquarium and IMAX 3D Theater.

Each colorful work was meticulously crafted by artists with Oregon-based nonprofit Washed Ashore using actual recovered litter to raise awareness of the threat water-borne plastic pollution poses to aquatic life.

With their whimsical depiction of jellyfish, seahorses, otters, sharks and other animals, Washed Ashore’s works are eye-catching and thought-provoking. Details viewed up-close — colorful, plastic trowels used as fish scales; dangling strings of water bottles serving as jellyfish tentacles — highlight the need to address rampant plastic waste.

tella the Seahorse, a sculpture in the Washed Ashore art exhibition
Giacometti the River Otter, a sculpture that is part of the Washed Ashore art exhibition, is displayed in River Journey.
A Sea Lion sculpture from the Washed Ashore art exhibit
sculptures from the Washed Ashore exhibit on display in the IMAX Theater
Sea Anemone sculpture from the Washed Ashore project

While the exhibit is no longer on display at the Aquarium, we are happy to have maintained “Stella the Seahorse” on the Aquarium campus inside the Island Life gallery. Additionally, a sculpture titled, “Trashy Trout,” created from plastic trash collected by Aquarium staff, is also viewable in the entrance to the Ridges to Rivers gallery.

Learn more about this artistically novel approach to environmental advocacy in this chat with Brad Parks, Washed Ashore's conservation education director!

Tennessee Ties

Plastic litter is more than just an ocean problem. According to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), at any given time, there are more than 100 million pieces of litter on Tennessee’s roadways, which can pose a threat to both land and aquatic animals.

TDOT initiated the Nobody Trashes Tennessee campaign and is partnering with organizations like the Aquarium to actively engage people to join in an anti-littering push that will greatly benefit our natural treasures. By supporting the Washed Ashore exhibit, Aquarium guests will be captivated by the colorful creatures during their visit and then head home to consider ways they can join the effort to improve the environment.

In addition to the works created by Washed Ashore, guests exploring the Discovery Hall gallery on the third floor of the River Journey building will encounter a sculpture of a Southern Appalachian Brook Trout. This enormous work was made by Aquarium employees out of plastic items collected internally last summer and fall.


The Washed Ashore exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium was presented by the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Nobody Trashes Tennessee litter prevention campaign with additional support from Unum.


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