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Kauai artist to get young help to create marine debris art

LIHUE — Marine debris from Kauai shores is being made into jewelry and sculptures on the Mainland and worldwide, in order to educate people about the impacts of plastic on the ocean.

But some of it is staying here — and not just the debris that’s still in the sand. Kauai artist Monika Mira is collecting debris and mobilizing the community into creating its own art, with its own message.

“Monika is our own Kauai Surfrider artist-in-residence,” said Carl Berg, ecologist and head of Surfrider Kauai’s Blue Water Task Force. “We have been supporting her in developing a big sculpture and marine debris education project.”

Mira is an illustrator, author, scientist and conservationist who has created coloring books for adults and kids, as well as picture books that teach about life under the sea.

“I have a degree in marine science and I have married my passions — art and science — by writing and illustrating about Hawaii’s marine life,” Mira said. “I’m not a sculptor. This is new for me.”

The idea to create sculptures was sparked in 2016 at a writing and publishing conference in Denver. That’s where Mira saw an exhibit at the Denver zoo, created by the organization Washed Ashore.

“When I saw the large sculptures and knew of the large amounts of debris getting collected around our shorelines, I made the decision to figure out how we can do this on Kauai,” Mira said.

When she got back to Kauai, she started talking with Washed Ashore, Surfrider Kauai, local schools and island Rotary clubs. She also started a pilot project at Kalaheo School, where she made a mosaic mural with students using plastic collected by Surfrider Kauai.

“The kids loved it,” Berg said. “Barbara Weidner of Surfrider also came in to give the students a PowerPoint lesson about marine plastics.”

While a 2-foot-by-6-foot mural is now hanging in the student activities room on the Kalaheo campus, Mira wants to go bigger and involve more people.

Her idea was to create a larger-than-life sculpture, so she went to a workshop at the Washed Ashore warehouse in Bandon, Oregon, over the summer to better understand the process.

“I discovered some of the challenges to making the piecework,” Mira said.

After chatting with the Washed Ashore team, Mira decided the best choice for a Kauai sculpture would be a jellyfish. That’s because its construction would be simple enough to involve the island’s keiki in the project, and the message would still be clearly interpreted.

“(It is) a sculpture that is easier to build for newbies like myself, (and) the jellyfish is made out of a lot of single-use plastics,” Mira said. “This is where the message lies: Eliminating these single-use plastics from Kauai.”

The goal is to present visually a collection of single-use plastics, like the ones used in lunches, to demonstrate how much is purchased and disposed of on the island.

The jellyfish is currently in the planning stages, and Mira is talking with metal workers and welders who could make the armature for the sculpture.

Also in the works are conversations with businesses and organizations that want to display sculptures as they are made.

“Other large sculptures will hopefully come after we have had some success with this one,” Mira said.

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