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Trash pulled from Tampa Bay waters becomes art in the hands of students

A new exhibit at The Florida Aquarium shows off how much garbage is in the ocean and the creativity of students to turn it all that trash into treasure.

TAMPA, Fla. — It used to be trash, now, it’s treasure. The walls of The Florida Aquarium featured two dozen pieces of art created by local students from garbage pulled from the ocean.

“It was wonderful watching them come in,” said Debbi Stone, VP of Learning at The Florida Aquarium. “Every piece that came in we just got more and more excited.”

The new exhibit called "A Lasting Legacy in Tampa Bay: Conservation Inspiration through Artis now open. It’s a temporary student art exhibition that depicts ocean scenes made of string, bottle caps, pieces of plastic and more. 

The exhibition brings full-circle the events held in January in conjunction with Dive 55, a day-long marine debris removal operation and beach clean-up, as part of Super Bowl LV’s environmental efforts. Hundreds of pounds of garbage were retrieved from the waters off Anna Maria Island, of which, veteran dive group Force Blue was a key participant. 

“We hope that the art can help people think about our impact on the environment and the types of plastics that you’ll find in the environment,” said Stone.

The trash was sanitized and distributed to schools. Kids ages K-12 all had chances to create art pieces using anything given to them and they could even include garbage collected near their homes.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Martin Gramatica surveyed the art this week. He was part of the Dive 55 event and grabbed garbage himself.  

“Before I dove, you always assume that everything is great,” he said. “You see beautiful blue water and there is not a problem, but there are so many issues that could happen if we don’t take care of our oceans. If we don’t take care of our waters.”

That’s the message going forward and hopefully what visitors to the aquarium exhibit take away from the artwork.

“Through projects like this we have students who can now say they were a part of a public art project,” said Stone.

The Florida Aquarium partnered with NFL Green and the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee to make this happen.

Art pieces were recreated by students from Armwood High School, Caminiti Exceptional Center School, Cleveland, Dover, Forest Hills, Foster, Gibsonton, Lopez, Muller, Riverhills and Summerfield Elementary Schools, Newsome High School, Rampello, and Randall Middle School.

The exhibit will be on display through International Coastal Cleanup Day on September 18 and can be viewed as part of general admission to the Aquarium.

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