According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration about 8 million metric tons of plastics end up in our oceans each year. It’s nearly the weight of 90 aircraft carriers and has a devastating effect on the water that wildlife calls home. While there’s no easy fix, one Rio Grande Valley organization is hoping to make more people aware of the problem.

As the sun rises off the shore of South Padre Island the search begins for what the surf stranded among the sandy dunes and one of the most prevalent is plastics.

“What happens with plastic is it doesn’t ever go away. It continues to break down and get brittle but unfortunately all that does is make it so that smaller animals can eat it,” says Connie Lovell, co-founder of Washed Up Texas.

When sea creatures confuse what’s floating in the water with food that can be a fatal mistake.

“What happens is they bite this and they got this big chunk of plastic in their stomach, their body is not going to digest that plastic it will just stay in their stomach and once they eat enough plastic their stomach fills up with plastic and they can’t get food in so they die,” says Lovell.

Washed Up Texas is a non-profit organization founded by Connie Lovell and Sarah Kulongowski back in November of 2017.

Lovell is the sculptor and her menagerie includes colorful creatures with memorable names like Rusty the Red Snapper, Funky Trash Fish, Callie the Blue Crab, Josie the Loggerhead, Humberto the Blue Heron, and Dolly the Dolphin.

“It has to be something that’s being effected by the trash. It has to be an animal that is being effected by the plastic out in the ocean,” Lovell says. 

Each one is composed of various materials found by these women and a team of volunteers and they’ve collected about a ton of trash in less than two years.

At Washed Up Texas, it’s not just about the artwork. It’s about conservation and education. One of the things they teach is that many of the plastics found on South Padre Island were missing chunks because of sea turtle bites.

The items left in the water pose a danger to creatures like Great Scott, an Atlantic green sea turtle, currently rehabbing at Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island. He lost a flipper, possibly from a predator or from being tangled in a fishing line left behind by an angler.

“I want everyone to know what’s going on because we need a solution and unless you know you have a problem you can’t solve it,” says Lovell.

Before the sculptures can take shape, the raw materials are gathered from the water along the Texas coastline.

“We have some professional trash collectors and they come and get what we call the good trash, we have a good trash and bad trash and this is good trash to us,” says Lovell.

The process then moves further inland to a cleaning station on South Padre Island between the Native Plant Center and the Birding and Nature Center.

In part two of this series, we’ll take a look at what it takes to get the materials safe and ready for Connie to sculpt, how she turns the trash into treasure, and look at some of the most common things Washed Up Texas has found on south Texas beaches.