Nova Scotia

Nova Scotian artist turns ocean trash into treasure

Artist Jennifer MacLatchy hopes that by elevating ocean garbage into art, people might start thinking twice about what they're throwing away — and where it might end up.

Seeing beauty in plastic might help us waste less, artist Jennifer MacLatchy says

Jennifer MacLatchy says she fills a bag with garbage every time she walks on the beach. She has even found a computer, a car bumper and a fridge. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

When Jennifer MacLatchy walks along Nova Scotia's beaches, she isn't looking for pretty shells or stones, like your typical beachcomber. Instead, she's looking for garbage. Garbage to turn into art.

When the sun catches them, they're just luminous. Kind of beautiful — in a terrible way.- Jennifer MacLatchy describing balls of fishing line washed up on the beach.

The 33-year-old, who presented her work at the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference in San Diego on March 14, said she wants to clean the shore up, and seeing the beauty in the junk that washes up on the sand keeps her motivated.

Ocean Treasures #300 includes two lobster buoys, a blue glove, piece of a red plastic cup, a long sheet of bubble wrap and pink insulation foam. (Jennifer MacLatchy)

MacLatchy, who is working on an interdisciplinary PhD in art and the environment at Dalhousie University in Halifax, also hopes that by elevating ocean garbage into art, people might start thinking twice about what they're throwing away — and where it might end up.

This piece of fibreglass was one of many finds on Crystal Crescent Beach on April 12. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

On her regular beach walks, MacLatchy finds lots of bottle caps, lobster trap tags, bullet shells, fishing line and rope.

She's also found half a MacBook computer, a piece of a Mazda bumper and a fridge.

Ocean Treasures #283 includes a right flip-flop, a left insole and piece of a blue milk crate. (Jennifer MacLatchy)

MacLatchy started arranging her finds and posting photos of the montages on Instagram, under the title Ocean Treasures, about three years ago, as a way to archive what she found.

She has also experimented with weaving found rope into baskets and crocheting found plastic into sculpture.

Lobster trap tags are a common find, MacLatchy says, along with bottle caps, bullet shells, fishing line and rope. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

MacLatchy said she makes her art to bring attention to all of the garbage in the ocean, but also to give herself a sense of accomplishment in the face of futility.

"You clean up one area," she said, "and then the tide comes in and you've got to clean it up again."

MacLatchy says she fills at least one garbage bag every time she visits Crystal Crescent Beach. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

We need to change the way we think about plastics in particular, MacLatchy said, so that we aren't so quick to throw it away.

If you use plastic in your daily life, "some of it is ending up in the ocean," she said, "no matter how you go about disposing of it." 

Ocean Treasures #289 includes a small wheel, a tangle of blue fishing line, a green pot scrubber and Styrofoam. (Jennifer MacLatchy)

That idea can make you feel "really depressed and hopeless," MacLatchy said, unless you turn it on its head, and try to think of plastic as treasure instead of trash.

"Plastic is going to exist forever," she said, "so we should do something with it that makes it valuable."

MacLatchy is pursing an interdisciplinary PhD in art and the environment at Dalhousie University in Halifax. She also works as a seasonal kayak guide. (Nina Corfu/CBC)

You could look at balls of tangled fishing line as a mess and possible hazard, MacLatchy said. Or you could choose, instead, to focus on how they catch the light when the sun shines.

"They're just luminous," she said. "Kind of beautiful — in a terrible way."

MacLatchy says she cleans up, then the tide comes in and she has to clean up all over again. (Jennifer MacLatchy)

Listen to the sounds of a recent beach walk with Jennifer MacLatchy here:

About the Author

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu has worked with CBC Nova Scotia since 2006, primarily as a reporter and producer for local radio programs. In 2018, she helped launch and build a national website for preteens called CBC Kids News. Get in touch by email: nina.corfu@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Information Morning