Zoie Clift, travel writer Arkansas Tourism

An exhibit at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock spotlights the impact we have on our oceans.

Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea highlights the toll trash takes on our oceans and waterways. It includes more than 20 giant sea life sculptures made entirely of trash collected from beaches. Though Arkansas doesn’t have an ocean, residents and visitors are still impacted and make an impact.

“The oceans that cover more than 70 percent of our planet belong to all of us,” said Ben Thielemier, communications manager of the Clinton Foundation. “From powerful sharks and colorful parrot fish to awe-inspiring coral reefs, it’s our responsibility to protect the marine life that inhabit our oceans. Also, who wants to vacation on a beach polluted with trash?”

As to the importance of having this ocean exhibit in land-locked Arkansas, Thielemier says it is a creative reminder that the disposable products we use can end up in our waterways (oceans as well as rivers, lakes, and streams) and that each of us can take action to prevent further pollution.

“It’s not just oceans that are clogged with plastic,” Thielemier said. “Paddle down Fourche Creek or walk along the Arkansas River Trail and you’ll see plenty of debris right here in our own community. That trash ended up there because we didn’t pick it up and recycle or dispose of it properly. And where does the Arkansas River flow? Into the Mighty Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico and our interconnected oceans.”

Thielemier added that an unfortunate fact is the sculptures in Washed Ashorecould be created from plastic and trash collected right here in Arkansas. “Volunteers with Friends of Fourche Creek, Keep Arkansas Beautiful, and so many other wonderful organizations collect thousands of pounds of plastic and trash from our creeks, rivers, parks and lakes every year,” he said.

Washed Ashoreshowcases the message that plastics have entered into all marine habitats at every level of the ocean food chain. Around 80 percent of this marine debris comes from land-based sources, going from streets to streams to rivers to oceans.

For those who want to visit the exhibit, Thielemier offers tips on how to fully experience it.

“Bring the whole family and play the Styrofoam drum set, walk through the whale bones and admire the beauty of the colorful coral reef,” he said. “And then take a few minutes to stop and look closely at what the artist used to make each of the sculptures. How many of those items, plastic water bottles, flip flops, packaging, containers, water toys, do you use on a regular basis? Look for the bite marks made by fish, sea turtles, and birds. Finally, make a commitment to rethink, reduce, refuse, and recycle to limit the plastic entering our ecosystem.”

Mark Camp, director of Keep Arkansas Beautiful, said a way the public can help prevent litter in the state’s lakes and rivers is to bring less single-use items with them. “We all need to be good stewards of our state’s beautiful lakes, rivers and streams,” he said. “And of course what you bring with you take with you.” If people see litter already in the water, Camp said to remove it if possible to do so safely. “We have so many Arkansans that always carry trash bags with them just for that reason and we really appreciate them,” he said.

Camp said it is easy to get involved in local cleanups or to put together your own. Keep Arkansas Beautiful promotes two annual cleanups each year, the Great American Cleanup and the Great Arkansas Cleanup. “There are so many opportunities across the state to have a positive impact when it comes to litter and beautification,” he said. “Everyone should check out keeparkansasbeautiful.com, which has lots of information and ideas on how to have that positive impact in our beautiful state.”

“The bottom line is every action counts to save our oceans and waterways,” added Thielemier.  “It will take each and every one of us becoming more mindful, considering the purchases we make and changing our behavior to ensure that Arkansas continues to be The Natural State.”

For more details on the Washed Ashoreproject, visit washedashore.org. The exhibit will be at the Clinton Presidential Center until October 27.For more details on the Clinton Presidential Center, visit.clintonfoundation.org/clinton-presidential-center. For more details on Keep Arkansas Beautiful visit keeparkansasbeautiful.com.