Middle School students recycle beach litter to make art

A group of environmentally considerate and creative Long Beach Middle School art students demonstrated the power to use passion and talent to create a meaningful masterpiece. 

As a local community effort, more than 42 National Junior Honor Society members, Long Beach High School students and various other environmental organizations took part in the International Coastal Cleanup Day on Sept. 16 on Riverside Boulevard in Long Beach. 
The beach cleanup initiative was coordinated by the City of Long Beach, Fabien Cousteau Ocean Learning Center and art teacher Laura Swan’s “Stewards of the Sea,” assisted by Long Beach High School student Harry Murphy. It brought members of the community together to make an environmental study of the debris found on our shoreline. Litter in various forms was removed and registered carefully to help preserve the beach’s natural beauty and cleanliness.

The middle school art students were requested by Cousteau to take the efforts a step further and make a “trash sculpture” from the debris that was collected. Thanks to the efforts of the beach maintenance crew, they assembled sanitized pieces of trash to form the image of a “sea person" that illustrates nature’s magnificence while spreading awareness about protection of the waters. They appropriately titled the piece, “Salvaged Riva,” as Riva means "from the shore" in French.

Materials such as bottle caps, beach toys, plastic lids, balloons and more were thoroughly washed and separated into categories. The students used these, as well as natural elements like shells and driftwood, to create their design over a paper mache foundation. Even the backdrop, a painting featuring colors of the ocean, was a discarded item repurposed for the project.

“After almost three decades of creating art with my students, this piece was extra special,” said Ms. Swan. “The artwork makes a strong statement of love for and destruction of our waters and how items that comfort us and make our lives ‘easier’ are sadly found in our seas.”

Fabien Cousteau, an aquanaut, ocean conservationist, and documentary filmmaker related to the famous Jacques Yves-Cousteau, joined New York State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller, district officials, staff members and students for an unveiling of the project at the middle school on Dec. 14. They shared memories and reflections from the beach cleanup and described how the artistic concept came to fruition, and Assemblywoman Miller provided each student with a Certificate of Merit. 
“I think the students made something really nice out of it,” said Cousteau. “It’s very representative of this community, which is concerned for and cares about the environment.”