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John Ball Zoo welcomes exhibit highlighting water pollution and its solutions

"Washed Ashore" is an exhibit showcasing 16 sculptures made entirely of trash that has been found washed up on beaches.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — You can miss the bald eagle, the penguin and the sturgeon when you walk through the entrance at John Ball Zoo. No, they're not real. They're sculptures. But the message behind these giant depictions of animals is real.

"Washed Ashore" is an exhibit that has used 60,000 pounds of plastics picked up from 300 miles of beaches by volunteers. Those plastics were used to create 16 sculptures of creatures who depend on the water in some way.

"All the guests are just amazed at the size of the 'Washed Ashore' sculptures, as well as the kind of the little things that you can find. You could spend an hour at each statue just looking at all of the different pieces and parts that are recognizable," said Melinda Robinett who serves as the zoo's education supervisor.

"There's golf balls. There's kids toys. There's umbrella pieces, bottles, cans. All of those types of things are all used in this, and you're like, 'how did that end up in the waterways?'"

The exhibit also comes with a scavenger hunt that people of all ages can enjoy, as well as ideas for how people can help put an end to pollution.

"There are specific calls to action with each one, whether it's bring your own bag, use reusable silverware, and kind of reduce the amount of stuff that you have in your life, which is a great thing. We all like to kind of reduce an also to help the environment," Robinett said.

In 2016, the Rochester Institute of Technology found that 22 million pounds of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes every year. Robinett says how much plastic ends up in the waterways is sad, but the art is highlighting the importance of the issue in a beautiful way.

"This just kind of brings to light, how much plastic ends up in the waterways, both in the oceans, but also in our local waterways as well," she said.

The exhibit is included in the price of admission. However, the zoo is encouraging guests to "round up for conservation" when they make purchases at the Zoo. Those donations will help the Zoo's conservation work in the Great Lakes region and around the world. Fifth Third Bank will march those donations up to $35,000 throughout the 2022 season.

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