The Waste Beneath our Waves

The Waste Beneath our Waves project aims to raise awareness about marine litter and also to celebrate the wealth of wonderful wildlife in the Irish Sea. The project shows how litter that is washed up on our beaches can be transformed into works of art. Litter collected by volunteers during beach clean events at South Walney Nature Reserve was used by schools and community groups and with the help of a local artist, Ellie Chaney, transformed into marine sculptures.


Students at North Walney Primary School                                                           

Beach cleans

A variety of different items can be found washed up on the beach at South Walney Nature Reserve, from a large chest freezer right down to a small cotton bud stick. What unites these items is that they are all pieces of marine litter, waste created by humans that has either directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally been disposed of into the marine environment.

We were surprised by the quantities and the kinds of things that are washed up: balloons, children’s toys, a huge amount of fishing netting, even a diver’s hood!

Local artist Ellie Chaney

Beach clean volunteers at South Walney Nature Reserve             


In October and November 2016, volunteers took part in a series of beach cleans at South Walney Nature Reserve in order not only to clean the beaches, but also to collect material to be used to create marine litter sculptures. Lots of different items were found on the beach, but some of the most common culprits consisted of plastic bottles, cotton buds and ballons.

Plastic bottles found during beach cleans

Cotton buds found during beach cleansBalloon string found during beach cleans

A big thank you goes to all the fantastic volunteers that took part!

Beach clean volunteers at South Walney Nature Reserve                                                         

Litter workshops

Litter collected during beach cleanOnce collected, litter was sorted and washed by the marine team along with the help of some dedicated volunteers.

The litter was then used during workshops run by talented local artist Ellie Chaney. As a freelance artist, Ellie is used to creating art in a wide range of mediums, both large and small-scale, however, this was the first time she’s been involved in making a six-foot-long jellyfish made entirely out of plastic bottles…

Ellie explains why she wanted to get involved with the project: “My art has mostly focused on environmental, ecological issues and I love to work with people who don’t necessarily consider themselves ‘artists’, especially children who are at the start of their art-making".

During the worshops, a selction of community groups transformed the marine litter into dramatic sculptures of sea creatures, such as seals, jellyfish and even an octopus.

Wildlife watchers creating marine litter scupturesWildlife watchers creating marine litter scuptures

Thank you goes to the following groups for the creation of their fantastic sculptures:

  • North Walney Primary School
  • Leonard Cheshire
  • St Pauls Junior School, Barrow
  • Furness College
  • Kendal Kingfishers Wildlife Watch Group
  • Beaumont College, Barrow 


I wanted people to become aware of these issues but rather than depressing them, I wanted to create an engaging project that will make them think, while hopefully having lots of fun!

Amy Hopley, Trainee Marine and Coastal Conservation Officer 

The final artworks went on public display at exhibitions in Barrow and Kendal in January.

The idea behind The Waste Beneath our Waves project was to make people aware of how litter left in the sea and on beaches can adversely affect our marine wildlife, as Amy Hopley, Trainee Marine Coastal Conservation Officer from The North West Wildlife Trusts explains: “Litter causes problems for many animal species that mistake it for food or get trapped in it, for example fishing floats and weights can get caught in their throats. Seals have been seen to swim head first into clear plastic bags and be hit at high tide by plastic bottles.”

In addition to the marine life sculptures, the exhibition showed a video made by Giuseppe Abba, a former student of Kendal College of Art, which tells an engaging story of a plastic bottle. As well as a video recording The Waste Beneath Our Waves, from beach clean to final art show, and fascinating facts about marine species found in the Irish Sea.

You can view the Waste Beneath Our Waves video here: