Artists create jewelry from Oregon beach debris

This year, more than 240 pounds of plastic was pulled from the sand in front of Haystack Rock. The microplastics have been transformed into earrings, pendants and necklaces.

CANNON BEACH, Ore. — As far as trash is concerned, the microplastics speckling the beaches of the Oregon Coast are some of the prettiest around.

“They look kind of pretty, and that’s the problem,” said Pooka Rice, the outreach coordinator for the Haystack Rock Awareness Program. “Because the birds and the fish also think they are pretty.”

Microplastics are extremely small pieces of debris broken down from larger waste in the ocean, coming in a variety of colors and often mistaken for sea glass.

Earlier this year, more than 240 pounds was filtered from the sand in front of Haystack Rock. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates 100 million tons of this debris fill the ocean, impacting thousands of sea turtles, seabirds, fish and other marine life who ingest it.

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Rice decided to tap into her artistic background and repurpose the plastics’ beauty into jewelry. What started as a fun experiment has blossomed into more than 100 pieces of art created by the program’s staff, who together have crafted a variety of mermaid-tail earrings, shell necklaces and turtle pendants encased in clear resin.

The goal is to start selling the jewelry at local art galleries and shops to raise money, as well as awareness about the issue.

“Rather than going to a landfill, we wanted to turn (the plastic) into a vehicle for conversation,” Rice said. “When visitors come, it’s not only an opportunity for environmental education, but a positive, tangible reminder that you can make a difference.”

“It never biodegrades”

The prevalence of microplastics on beaches around the world has been steadily increasing for the past six years, said Marc Ward, the director of the environmental nonprofit Sea Turtles Forever.

Ward, who often leads beach-cleanup efforts in Cannon Beach, has been researching marine plastics for more than 20 years. In that time he started to see the prevalence of the material in the digestive tracts of sea turtles.

He didn’t realize the severity until he returned to the coast from a research trip six years ago to find the beaches he loves — like Oswald West and Crescent Beach — covered in the tiny plastics.

“I’ve been on the beach all my life. I…

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