Minke whale

This is the amazing minke whale– hand sewn with members of community throughout the summer of 2021.

It’s one of 46 life-sized portraits of animals harmed by marine debris found in my series Entangled and Ingested. Most of the forty-six are hand sewn by me from the film plastic that pervades our lives and is difficult or impossible to recycle.

The three whales on the list are being sewn in collaboration with the community.

This is actually on the small size for the minke whale– the canvas is 18 feet long by 7 feet tall. A physically mature minke whale in the north Pacific would average about 25-26 feet and in the north Atlantic, about 26-27 feet.

Haddam Neck Fair

In New England (and lots of places, I’m sure) we have these seasonal fairs that come around. Our favorite has always been the Haddam Neck Fair. It’s small enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed but big enough to have fun rides, cool shows (like tractor pulls and dog trials), and lots of amazing food.

I was SO EXCITED to be asked by the fair management to bring my hand-sewn portraits of animals harmed by marine debris to the show this year. We were able to go last night and hang them up.

It’s so gratifying to finally see them up (this is only 15 of the 46 in the series that I’m working on). But to see the 15 foot long dusky shark hung for the first time is a real treat for me.

It makes me feel like all that hard work was worth it.

I’m hoping to use these to highlight how many film plastics we encounter on a daily basis– these are the plastics that are difficult or impossible to recycle where I live. And yet sometimes it feels everything is wrapped in them…

More from the Entangled and Ingested series

Sooty Tern, 29 x 26.5 inches
Stellar Sea Lion, 67.5 x 70 inches

Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle, 33.5 x 38 inches

White faced storm petrel, 22.5 x 19 inches
Dusky Shark (not a great photo– it’s too big for my studio!) 15 feet 3 inches x 5 feet 2 inches

Throughout the summer, I have continued to create these portraits of animals harmed by plastic pollution. Each is hand sewn from film plastics– film plastics are impossible or difficult to recycle where I live.

I’ve completed 14 of the 46 species on my list (informed by the work of researcher David Laist, 1997).

Here are just a few more.

To really follow the progress of the project, check out my TikTok and Instagram.

Entangled and Ingested

Green Sea Turtle, at the Haddam Neck Congregational Church as a part of the Haddam Neck Quilt Show, 2021

Plastic pollution harms water quality, wildlife, ecosystems, and the economy. Animals are killed by entanglement (getting trapped in debris) and ingestion (consuming debris). Global markets produce over 350 millions of tons of plastic each year, much of it designed to be used once and thrown “away.”

This project creates to-scale images of 46 species harmed by entanglement and ingestion (Laist 1997). This is a small proportion of the total- the chapter names over 260 species while a later article found entanglement and/or ingestion for over 500 species (Kühn et al. 2015).

The images are created by hand-sewing difficult-to-recycle film plastics onto canvas. The work highlights the magnitude of the problem while reflecting on the kind of plastics we encounter in our everyday lives, tying us to their survival and them to our consumption.

All of these animals are being created TO SCALE– showing the actual size of the creatures impacted by plastic pollution

Want to see change? Tell your Congressional representatives to support the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021

Atlantic Cod, 2021, 40.5 x 22 inches

Atlantic Puffin, 2021, 13 x 15 inches

Winter Flounder, 2021, 22.5 x 21.5 inches
Leach’s Storm Petrel, 2021, 13 x 15.25 inches
Laughing Gull, 2021, 26.5 x 22 inches
Greater Shearwater, 2021, 37.5 x 21.5 inches
Fairy Penguin, 2021, 17 x 17 inches
Green Sea Turtle, 2021, 60 x 62 inches

COVID project: Art and Science on Marine Debris

A friend asked me to share an assignment for young children to access freely during COVID that pulls together some of the elements of my teaching, research, and arts practice. Here goes!

Are you a teacher looking for an activity for students working from home during the COVID-19 global pandemic?

This activity can be completed remotely with items found in most homes.

After completing this activity, students should be able to:

  • Describe the way plastic waste threatens the health of global waterways {Knowledge: information gathering}
  • Discuss plastic waste and our own behavior. How do we use plastic? Can we avoid it? {Taking apart: analysis}
  • Create an image from plastic waste {Making use of knowledge: application}


Learning about Plastic Pollution

Ask your students to research plastic pollution around the world.

National Geographic has a lot of resources appropriate for kids:

The World’s Plastic Pollution Crisis Explained

Ten Shocking Facts about Plastic

Reflect of the problem of plastic by answering the following questions

  • How much plastic is there in the world?
  • How does plastic waste harm wildlife?
  • How do we dispose of plastic?
  • What kind of recycling for soft plastic (ex: chip bag, tortilla packaging, bread bag) is available in my community?
  • How can I reduce my plastic use?


Come together as a group to discuss or share answers to an online discussion.


Learning about Plastic Art

Visit the websites of artists who use plastic as a medium. There are hundreds of artists doing amazing work with and about plastic pollution—a few of my favorites are:


Our activity today is based on my work sewing soft plastics onto large canvases in the shapes of sea creatures


Octopus (96 x 59 inches, photo credit: John Groo)


Whale (75 x 61 inches, photo credit: John Groo)



Closeup, Whale (photo credit: John Groo)


Closeup, Octopus (photo credit: John Groo)


Look closely, do you recognize where some of these plastics came from?



Here’s a simple version of this project appropriate for younger students



  • Soft plastics
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Paper



  1. Collect soft plastics in a range of colors


  1. Draw an image on a piece of paper




  1. Cut soft plastic into small pieces


  1. Glue pieces onto your image





  1. Voilà!




More advanced students can…

  • sew plastics onto fabric with needle and thread
  • create more elaborate images
  • create larger images
  • create more meaningful images (i.e., of species, landscapes, or communities impacted by marine debris)
  • use this material the way you would tiles in a mosaic



Shout out to the amazing Shari Bergel for inspiring this!

Download a PDF of the activity here:

Plastic in the Ocean_Art and Science

One week in and what we have learned

We are feeling fortunate that for now our jobs are possible when working from home. Though that won’t last forever, in the short term, it helps.


Most of the time we are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the results that experts and scientists have been promising for weeks and which are sadly, finally, coming to fruition.


Where we live in Middlesex county, things are still slow and quiet. Only six reported cases and no deaths. But in nearby New Haven there are forty-one cases. In Hartford sixty-one, and in Fairfield county a whopping 270 cases after a super-spreader event. Wedged between New York and Boston as we are, we know it is only a matter of time until the cases in the region increase exponentially. In New York, of course, things are already getting much worse.


A huge medical catastrophe like this brings out into the open all the problems that we normally ignore. It doesn’t help that I am teaching American Public Policy this semester, and therefore leading discussions on policy areas like social policy, health, education, and environment.


I worry about the people in our community who cannot work from home. Their bills will be looming soon, still coming though their incomes have been drastically cut. There are many people who are still working, at risk to their own health and the health of their friends and families. At the risk of all of us. I have students who work in service jobs at places like Dunkin’ Donuts that are somehow still considered “essential” businesses. In the United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, many millions of people live just at the poverty line or below it. They don’t have the ability to sit back, stock up on food, stay home, and wait it out.


Many people in the United States don’t have access to healthcare. So, while many tens of thousands (it all depends on whether people take staying at home seriously and flatten the curve) may die, many hundreds of thousands of people may survive only to find themselves in deep medical debt. That is if they are able to access medical care.


In education, COVID-19 heightens the disparities that already exist in American society. In the US, we tie education budgets to local property taxes, meaning that in wealthy communities, education is excellent and in poor communities, children are punished for their parents’ lack of income. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps the rich rich and the poor poor. In a time of COVID-19, wealthy school districts have already gone online. Students are provided technology to take home and are already engaging with their teachers in classes. In poorer communities, kids have been given worksheets and told to keep up as they wait for their teachers and districts to complete a plan. We are fortunate that we have an amazing group of local educators and administrators who are working to make sure all of the kids are given the tools they need to succeed, despite the local property values. For James’ school in Hartford, I am really not sure what we will be getting. We have gotten little information and no updates on school work for him. Add to all of this the expectation that we are now in charge of ensuring our children do the work they are assigned. As two parents with full-time commitments, there is not enough time in the day for us to manage their schooling, do our jobs, and you know– important things like maintain sanity, prepare all the meals we are eating at home, and keep our house clean.


When thinking about the environment, it is a mixed bag. Will the world recognize that we are happier when we slow down and have less? Or will this be used as an excuse to throw more environmental regulations to the side? It is quite normal in politics to use whatever event is happening to push through one’s agenda. This is likely to be no different. The Trump administration has been systematically rolling back environmental regulations since day one. That this assault would change now is laughable.

That said, I am thinking about the studies that are sure to come from this event that will show the environmental benefits of a sharp decrease in global carbon. As for plastic pollution—this event will yield an exponential increase in plastic waste—in many places medical waste is not disposed of properly (I say that with the understanding that here it is either burned or buried, which are dead ends as well). But still, there is already evidence of a sharp increase in medical masks on global beaches. I am already wondering about what that will mean for me and my students in the future. Will going to a beach cleanup in 2021 mean risking exposure to hazardous medical waste?


So, it is worrisome and depressing. but it is also many other things.


I love not having to commute.


I love not being on a frantic schedule.


I love that we are having daily walks, hikes, working on puzzles, art, and sudoku.


Willy is reading books and facetiming with friends, James is practicing ballet and texting with friends, and Alice is learning to read.


If not for this event we would never experience the magic that is the security officer of the American Cowboy Museum, Tim, run their twitter account.




Though an overwhelming sense of dread waits on the doorstep and wakes me at night, I keep thinking:


What if this became the moment we decided healthcare is a human right.


What if we acknowledged that teachers provide a valuable service to our communities that cannot be easily replicated and should be compensated accordingly.


What if we used this moment to hold politicians accountable for their greed and lack of compassion.


What if we recognized that education is a social good that should not vary according to wealth.


What if we determined that every American deserves to have basic security from poverty.


What if we admitted that as the climate changes, this will be the beginning of decades -even centuries– of long emergencies, and that it is worth it to make changes now to prevent it.


What if we had more meals together with our families.


What if we told the people we love how much they mean to us.


What if we had more walks in the woods.


What if our kids were getting plenty of sleep.


What if our communities were filled with people helping one another.

PAYCE: Palestinian American Youth Civic Engagement

Really thrilled that a youtube video on our PAYCE project has just dropped.

I just re-listened to all forty of the podcasts that students produced as a part of this project and was truly in awe of their hard work and effort.

You can access all of the student podcasts here. I recently created curriculum guides for using these pieces in the classroom– I’ll post a link to those when they’re online.

2018-06-19 23.03.17

Here are some shots from the research trip to the West Bank in summer 2018. 

National Geographic Explorer

So excited to learn that I’ve been awarded a National Geographic Explorer Grant under their Reducing Ocean Plastic Pollution program!  The project Experiential Learning with Indian Educators: Collecting Local Data to Share with Politicians and Scientists is a collaboration with faculty member Dr. Jaya D.S. at the University of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram, India. I’m collaborating with colleagues at the University of Kerala throughout the spring 2019 semester. The grant will bring 100 teachers from across India to Kerala for a training workshop on engaging students in marine debris collection.

Dr O and Dr Jaya_Thangassery Harbor

Here I am with Dr. Jaya at Thangassery harbor, Kerala. Photo by Alwyn Biju.

Woot woot! Can’t wait!


PAYCE podcasts and story on UHart Web

Check out this story on the Uhart website about the PAYCE program, focusing on Genesis who went to train in Jordan this summer to learn podcasting skills.

The podcast series that is a result of the project was created by young adults about making a difference in the United States, Palestine, and Jordan. Hear short, inspiring profiles of young adults using different forms of civic and political engagement. Season one was made by Palestinians and Americans using compelling stories from Des Moines Iowa. Season two from Palestine and around the States brings a new set of inspirational stories about social action and change. Season three will be stories from Jordan and Palestine will drop throughout the month of November. Season 4 is under production in the West Bank and throughout the U.S. The series is funded through generous support by the Stevens Initiative, Drake University, and Al-Quds Bard College.


The program is available on buzzsprout and iTunes

Buzzsprout:  https://www.buzzsprout.com/215436

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/payce-stories/id1438045374?mt=2