How This Marine Biologist Uses Art to Bridge the Gap Between Us and Science


In an effort to encourage public engagement with science, translators play an important position in bridging the hole between us and analysis.

These scientific storytellers assist distill dry, monotonous textbook writing, and switch it into one thing that conjures up, educates, and motivates folks to study extra.

Scientific storytelling can take numerous completely different varieties. Academics, docents, and journalists all work to seek out methods to ship science’s message to the plenty, within the hope that it’s going to seize consideration and spark a aware shift in perspective, finally with the objective of fixing our conduct in favor of the planet.

For Ethan Estess, the medium is artwork. He has discovered the inventive magnificence and profit in utilizing sculpture to attract consideration to the plight of the ocean.

Bridging the Gap with Art
Picture courtesy of Ethan Estess

A Santa Cruz native and a Stanford graduate with a grasp’s diploma in Environmental Science, Estess grew up with a love for browsing, creating and studying extra concerning the marine setting. He now works to merge the three disciplines with the aim of educating and selling ocean sustainability. Estess based his personal nonprofit, Countercurrent, which bridges the hole between marine analysis and the general public with science-based artwork installations.

Ethan Estess Art Whale Sculpture
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

A lot of his art work makes use of reclaimed supplies ubiquitously discovered on coastlines and out at sea: business fishing gear, plastic particles, wooden, tires, and so forth. Each bit brings forth a narrative—learnings from the sphere that function a poignant message about ocean well being and conservation.

Many have come to study of Estess’ work via his sculpture that made a splash on social media utilizing the hashtag #plasticfreewave. The 28-foot, barreling wave was constructed at Ehukai Seaside Park in entrance of Pipeline throughout the 2018 Pipe Masters, utilizing over 3,000 toes of rope and over 600 kilos of plastic collected by Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, with help from Jack Johnson on the youth training part.

Ethan Estess Art Wave Sculpture
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

Estess’ work may be present in each private and non-private shows throughout the USA in addition to in Europe and Japan, and he has numerous concepts within the works for future initiatives. We sat down with Estess to speak about the place he attracts his inspiration, the profit in utilizing artwork for scientific storytelling, and plans for future works.

What sort of artwork did you begin with as a inventive, and the way has it developed?

I grew up making surfboards in my dad’s storage beginning round age 14, and that was my absolute ardour rising up. However after I went to school at Stanford they didn’t have any amenities for working with that kind of fabric because it’s fairly poisonous. In order that they talked me out of it and talked me into making sculptures and taking artwork courses, and I principally haven’t seemed again since.

Ethan Estess Plastic Free Wave
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

When do you know that you just needed to get extra concerned with marine science?

I type of knew that going into school. The explanation I went to Stanford was that I needed to work with this professor who studied nice white sharks. We now have a really wholesome inhabitants of them [in Northern California] and admittedly, I used to be scared and type of all the time inquisitive about the place they go, what they do and how one can keep away from them, haha.

I obtained a ton of cool expertise together with her tagging nice white sharks, which led into my work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium learning bluefin tuna ecology and conservation.

However I feel browsing finally linked me to the ocean in a approach that I needed to only continue to learn about it.

Ethan Estess Art Whale Tail
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

The place does numerous your motivation come from and what are a few of your private targets?

Rising up and being within the water in Santa Cruz type of uncovered me to what a properly managed ocean ecosystem ought to seem like. However then, via fairly a little bit of journey browsing and later with my work as a marine biologist, I began to comprehend that it wasn’t such a reasonably image in every single place else.

That’s been the principle motivation for my skilled and private life—to try to export the mannequin of sustainability that’s been working fairly properly on this space, and see if that may enhance livelihoods and ecosystem well being for different components of the world the place that’s not the precedence.

Ethan Estess Drawing Bluefin Fin
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

When did you shift from analysis to artwork, and what propelled that? How can utilizing artwork assist together with your objective?

I used to be planning to go on to do my Ph.D, however I felt that extra analysis wasn’t essentially what was wanted. That wasn’t my contribution. I made a decision that possibly I had a special path to observe, by attempting to begin these [environmental] conversations in a approach that’s not polarizing or tremendous miserable, and that brings in additional optimistic components, or on the very least begins dialog. In order that’s what I’ve tried to give attention to previously a number of years.

Individuals who can share these tales successfully are serving to transfer the needle when it comes to integrating this info in a significant approach.

Ethan Estess Science Work Tuna
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

What sort of work with marine science have you ever been concerned with in recent times?

I used to be full-time on the Monterey Bay Aquarium doing bluefin tuna analysis, however began shifting away from that work in 2014. As of late, I work seasonally in Japan for them for a number of months at a time and spend the remainder of the yr within the studio in Santa Cruz.

So that you’re a part-time scientist, part-time artist.


Ethan Estess Wave Build
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

What sort of artwork or design do you give attention to presently? And the place do you draw your inspiration from?

Primarily sculptures. I’d say that my time spent on the highway touring doing marine science uncovered me to the size of the marine plastic air pollution challenge. Anyplace I am going, there’s all the time trash on the seashore.

I sometimes use all fishing gear that I’ve collected off the seashore, or I am going round and accumulate it from fishermen after they’re able to retire or throw it within the landfill. That’s my materials alternative for positive.

Ethan Estess Commercial Fishing Gear Trash
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

My area of interest is that I’m attempting to inform tales via these reclaimed supplies to spotlight their potential adverse impacts on marine wildlife.

Lots of people find out about plastic air pollution, significantly about micro plastic, and that’s an enormous challenge. However personally I’m extra centered on the large stuff that entangles and chokes animals. Fishing rope and nets are principally among the many most harmful types of plastic air pollution.

Briding the Gap
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

How a lot of your work as an artist attracts instantly off of what you’re researching as a marine scientist?

I’d say my time spent within the subject is the place I get most of my concepts for my art work. Simply being on the water being uncovered to completely different sounds, patterns. All of it weaves into the art work. And on one other stage, speaking with business fishermen in Japan and listening to their tales about encountering plastic air pollution in the midst of the Pacific… I attempt to combination these tales and share [them] in some oblique approach with the art work. That’s what I’m actually attempting to do. A visible storytelling method.

The art work I’ve carried out on bluefin is extra particular to overfishing and speaking about their sustainability. It’s a bit little bit of a special avenue of labor for me.

Ethan Estess Marine Mammal Golf Balls
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

Will you give us the story behind the golf ball mission?

The story is admittedly about my good friend Alex Weber who, as a 16-year-old snorkeling together with her dad off Pebble Seaside the place she’s from, found that the ocean flooring was lined in golf balls.

She would discover some that had been breaking up, and there have been all these rubber bands type of floating out into the water identical to seagrass. So, you’ll be able to guess that animals are ingesting these items, and he or she determined she was going to do one thing about it.

Ethan Estess String Golf Ball
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

Over the course of two years she collected about 50,000 golf balls and was storing them in her dad’s storage and realized that there was a possibility to do analysis. She started categorizing them based mostly on how degraded they had been. Some seemed contemporary and had that shiny outer coating as in the event that they had been straight from the manufacturing unit. And a few of them, the core of the golf ball was principally uncovered, so she began doing analysis on what golf ball cores are manufactured from. Turns on the market’s truly some fairly poisonous rubber components which are tremendous frequent.

Ethan Estess Diving For Golf Balls
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

She discovered printed analysis displaying that the stuff is harmful in aquatic environments. When you put it in your aquarium, it’ll most likely kill the fish. It’s uncommon to have that kind of data [readily available] on a compound. The truth that all these golf balls she had saved are sitting there tumbling round and breaking open, is type of gnarly.

It’s successful story as a result of she printed that paper, and the Nationwide Marine Sanctuaries program got here up with a protocol with the Pebble Seaside firm that manages a number of programs in that space. They [created] a five-year cleanup plan which has a diver on the market about two or three days a yr to make a dent in gathering these balls.

Her willpower, matched with a stable analysis basis, principally created a coverage change that’s the actual deal. So our objective is to take that optimistic story and share it internationally.

Ethan Estess Golf Balls
Courtesy of Ethan Estess

Her story is without doubt one of the few tangible examples the place you could have a degree supply of plastic air pollution that you would truly handle via good coverage. The difficulty is approach larger than golf balls, however it is a hopeful story, and a stepping stone in the fitting route.

Alex heard about Countercurrent and reached out to them and mentioned ‘Hey, you guys need 50,000 golf balls?’

I knew this mission was going to be a gnarly endeavor, however I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime alternative, so I mentioned sure. I designed this massive wave sculpture that we’re actively crowdfunding and constructing on the identical time.

You can find Ethan’s crowdfunding page here.

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