The Art of Conservation

Elke van Breemen is Cetus’s Outreach Coordinator for northern Vancouver Island. With a BSc in Natural Resources She has worked on many artistic projects with the mind of a Conservation Biologist. The following is a description and Artist’s Satement on a recent piece she has done, to be displayed at an upcoming exhibition called “ReVision: The Art of Recycling” on Granville Island from July8-17.

Plankton are tiny organisms that drift aimlessly throughout the pelagic zone, or main upper column, of water bodies. These tiny plants, animals and bacteria form the base of the marine food web. Phytoplankton (plant-plankton) capture energy from sunlight via photosynthesis and transfer it to predators such as zooplankton (animal-plankton). This energy is passed up along the food chain to invertebrates, fish, marine mammals, birds and humans.

Plastics are littered throughout aquatic environments and eventually degrade into a multitude of tiny pieces that drift and disperse in ocean currents. With their vibrant, often translucent appearance, bits of plastic are often mistaken for planktonic prey by hungry sea creatures. This artificial food source obviously lacks nutritional value and is often fatal to its consumers. The image framed within the head portion of the “Plastic Plankton” sculpture depicts plastic items found within the stomach contents of an albatross that likely died of starvation (National Geographic, Ocean 2010).

The “Plastic Plankton” sculpture is modeled after a zooplankton, in this case the larva of a crustacean such as a lobster or shrimp. It is composed entirely of recycled materials found on the beach, in the garbage and in household “junk drawers”. This plastic beastie attempts to camouflage itself as a giant plankton by emulating its shape and colours. While vibrant and luring, plastic plankton are deadly sharp and indigestible. They will never be naturally assimilated into the marine ecosystem. Instead, they will contaminate living beings, accumulating in their bodies in increasing concentrations along the food chain. Who would have thought that a miniature toy ninja sword could actually become a lethal weapon.

Elke has a BSc in Natural Resources Conservation and Forestry from UBC and is working this summer as an Environmental Educator for Cetus Research and Conservation Society in Alert Bay, BC. She is a self-taught artist and you can see more of her work at:


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