Our Plastic Oceans: Children merge marine science and art to talk microplastics

Our Plastic Oceans: Children merge marine science and art to talk microplastics

What do children think of the future?

-Jessica (Crùbag's founder): So how do you see the future?

-L. (pupil): Bad.

-D. (pupil): I don't think it's going to be that good.

-A. (pupil): There's a turtle, and it's.. there's like loads of microplastic fibres and there's a turtle going to eat the plastic bag.

-Jenny (P7/6 teacher): Is that what this is?

-L. (pupil): The jellyfish is dead because it's eaten microplastics and plastics and it's fallen down to the bottom of the sea.

-B. (pupil): Well, someone threw a bag into the sea, and then it floated along, and then fish started to come and eat it.

-Jenny (P7/6 teacher): And what do you think about the future?

-B. (pupil): A little bit better?

-Jenny (P7/6 teacher): Good.

Children merge marine science and art to talk microplastics  

This is the story of Our Plastic Oceans Notebook Collection, and we're really, really excited about the work the children created for this project. The pupils of year 6 and 7 of Taynuilt Primary, joined by pupils from year 6 and 7 from Kilchrenan Primary, collaborated with Crùbag and scientists at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) as a collective effort of art, marine science education, and action that aims at bringing awareness to the imminent issue of microplastic pollution. Inspired by the often unseen beauty of our oceans, Crùbag elevates marine science into art, whilst aiming to engage and educate. However, in this instance, the unseen is not a thing of beauty but rather an issue to make visible.

So what are microplastics? 

Microplastics are defined as plastic particles and fibres smaller than 5 millimetres. They are a result of the fragmentation of bigger plastic items due to the effect of UV light and oxygen. Some microplastics are produced intentionally; their small size is useful in industrial applications such as pellets; or in microbeads for cosmetics, cleaning products, paint etc. Microplastic pollution has become rife in the ocean as a result of our excessive consumption of single-use plastic and the lack of infrastructure in our waste and recycling systems. As a part of the degradation process, plastics fragment into smaller pieces and continue to do so beyond the visibility of the naked eye. This can also happen unintentionally. For example, as we do laundry, plastic fibres from synthetic textiles such as fleece can leach into our water systems.

Microplastics pollution can have serious implications for marine life, causing irritation as they ingest these microplastics and reduce their capacity to reproduce. Microplastics can also accumulate pollutants such as heavy metals and pesticides on their surface, causing even greater damage and distress to the marine ecosystem. This ultimately comes back to us through our water systems and the seafood we eat. As we continue to consume plastic at an exponential rate, taking note of its slow degradation, the quantity of microplastics in our oceans will continue to increase.

The Project  

Marine science graduate and designer Jessica Giannotti from Crùbag teamed up with Renuka Ramanujam, a material and textile designer with a keen interest in bio-based design and the development of plant-based printing inks. We began to piece together a story of microplastic pollution to be told through the medium of print, particularly through the merging of Crùbag's and Renuka's dynamic signature styles. The pupils of Class 6 and 7 at Taynuilt Primary School were invited to Crùbag and the marine research institute to gain a better understanding of how microplastics come to be. They were taken through a tour of the labs and learned about the equipment used to research and monitor microplastics presence in the local environment. A visit to the local Ocean Explorer Centre, followed by a beach clean up behind our studio, gave the children an even greater opportunity to get their hands dirty by attempting their own data collection and sampling fieldwork.

During the following weeks, Renuka and Jessica travelled to the school a couple of times to lead a series of design and print sessions with the pupils. The objective was to demonstrate the power of design to express and communicate a concept or issue. Using the knowledge gained on microplastics, as well as any objects collected from their beach cleanup, the pupils learned various mark-making and mono-printing techniques, which they used to create collages and imagery of their visions for the marine future. Some pupils addressed coral bleaching, the suffering of marine life at the hands of microplastic pollution, whilst others endeavoured to show what a healthy marine ecosystem would look like, including inventions for ocean cleanups. The outcome was an impressive understanding of impending issues and a beautiful will to improve current systems, with pupils having the opportunity to share their thoughts, inspirations, and concerns alongside their final pieces.

"I approached Jessica Giannotti of Crùbag to see if she could help us learn printing techniques and how to use art and fashion to inspire change. The class felt passionately that we needed to do something to raise awareness about the extent of the issue and so I approached Jessica to see if there was anything we could do to raise awareness using art, and so this project was born!

The response has been beyond our wildest dreams. My class had been working on ocean pollution with a grant we received from the Royal Society, learning sampling techniques and analysing what they found with microscopes, supported by Professor Bhavani Narayanaswam from SAMS as our STEM partner. Allowing us to work with the collection in partnership with Crùbag was incredibly exciting – the pupils were enthused and engaged and produced some beautiful and moving artwork with a powerful message.

Each pupil came up with their own designs that communicated their feelings about what they have learned and their hopes and fears about the future. The key message for me is how powerful these wonderful children are in building a better future. Their awareness and passion have been incredible. The messages they wrote inside their notebooks, communicating their hopes and fears about the future are inspiring.

The ultimate aim was to link science with art, to engage with the public and inspire and drive change. The potential legacy is that this project will be repeated every year with the p7/6 pupils, keeping the collection going and giving the children a real voice".

Jenny Love, P7/6 Teacher and Science Coordinator, Taynuilt Primary School.

"When Jenny approached us I was excited and moved by her passion and interest in bringing her pupils a deeper understanding of science and helping them gain a deeper connection to the natural environment. We were already working on our new textile collection inspired by microplastics in the ocean in collaboration with textile designer Renuka Ramanujam, and scientists Professor Bhavani Narayanaswamy and PhD student Lola Paradinas, both from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).

It was the perfect story to share with the children and made the project more meaningful and exciting. We ran a series of art and microplastics science workshops, allowing the children to go deeper into the subject and express their views and feelings through creation. By bringing art and science together to understand our beautiful planet further, we kept a positive attitude. However, the children's understanding of the current environmental issues and potential future scenarios was deeply moving, and a wake-up call for all of us. We hope you enjoy this journey as much as we did and gain a renewed sense of awareness".  

Jessica Giannotti, Founder of Crùbag.

Our Plastic Oceans Notebook Collection 

These beautiful artworks now envelop the covers of Our Plastic Oceans Notebook Collection, a tribute to a future that is at a tipping point - made by those who will be at the helm. Exploring their vision of the oceans' future, the children have illustrated and collaged stunning artworks, depicting microplastic fragments in our seas, the marine life that encounter them, and how we as humans continue to impact the ecosystem. These artworks have been developed as a new range of 24 notebooks to raise awareness on microplastic pollution and highlight the power of educating our future generation.This is a sustainable collection of fabric-covered notebooks inspired by microplastic pollution. The children created all designs. Each notebook is hand-made with high-quality paper and covered with the pupils' designs printed on organic cotton - a natural fabric. Every notebook comes with extra special text: the pupils' personal description of their design, written inside the front cover. From the purchase of each notebook, £5.00 is donated to Taynuilt Primary School. The money collected will be managed by the pupils who will choose how much will go to plastic pollution research charities and institutions like SAMS and how much will be used to purchase new science equipment for the school that may otherwise be inaccessible. Click here to shop this collection.

The Film: Children's visions of the future

The pupils who designed these notebooks share the meaning of their designs and leave us with a powerful message. Be ready for an emotional and sobering journey.

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