Young artists show creativity in a plea to reduce harmful trash in the ocean


Student artists from across the country are calling attention to the hazards of human trash that washes into the ocean, killing sea creatures large and small. Each year, hundreds of young artists submit colorful drawings and paintings in the annual Marine Debris Art Contest, sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program.

By Krishi P., grade 6, South Carolina / NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest

I’ve selected a few of my favorite pictures for this page, including one from a young Seattle artist, but you can see all 13 winning entries on the Art Contest Winners page. To enlarge, click on the picture and then the “X” in the upper right corner.

The winning drawings will be featured in an upcoming calendar for the year 2021, with one picture on the cover and one for each month of the year. Check back on the art contest website before the end of the year to download next year’s calendar. Last year’s winners are featured on the 2020 calendar (PDF 39.7 mb), now available for download.

The contest is open to students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. This year a third-grader from Washington state was listed among the winners with a drawing of a narwhal, a whale with a long, spherical tusk.

The artist, Sabina Westhagen of Seattle, wrote this message, “Narwals are cute, so don’t pollute.” Sabina is the daughter of Suzanna and Peter Westhagen.

By Sabina Westhagen, grade 3, Seattle / NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest

“Sabina says she chose to draw a Narwhal because she has loved reading the book series, ‘Narwhal and Jelly’ by Ben Clanton,” her mother told me in an email. “She was very excited to be a chosen winner of the annual Marine Debris Art Contest. However, she was disappointed to notice she had spelled Narwhal incorrectly on her drawing without realizing it! Luckily, most people don’t know how to spell Narwhal either.”

I confess that I did not notice the misspelling until Suzanna mentioned it. I was pleased to hear that Sabina loves science and hopes to become a scientist. I’m sure she was influenced by her grandfather, Charles Eaton, a marine biologist, as well as her grandmother, Catherine Eaton Skinner, a professional artist.

As with many entries, Sabina and her parents learned about the art contest came from Sabina’s teacher, Dana Zulauf of The Bush School, an independent school in Seattle. Third-grade students at the school focus on ocean issues for an entire year as part of their science studies.

By Alice H., grade 2, Massachusetts / NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest

The goal of the contest is for students to learn about the worldwide problem of marine debris and to use their power of artistic expression to raise awareness. Winners are chosen for their creativity, artistic presentation, relevance to theme, and how thoroughly the students have explained how marine debris affects the ocean and what people can do to help. Entries are normally submitted in October.

“The winning artwork is featured in a calendar, which will help to remind us of the importance of being responsible stewards of the ocean, not just on Earth Day, but every day,” states an entry in the Marine Debris Blog.

I’ve been promoting this contest and showing off the student artwork in this blog since the beginning, when the top winner was Araminta “Minty” Little, a seventh grader at Fairview Junior High School in Central Kitsap. See Minty’s picture of an octopus clutching lost junk in Water Ways, March 18, 2013.

I do wish that contest organizers would take the time to obtain whatever permissions are necessary so that that most of the winners can be recognized with their full names, schools and hometowns. I was able to learn about Minty because her school proudly informed me of her accomplishment. I learned about Sabina after asking organizers to contact Sabina’s parents on my behalf.

The mission of NOAA’s Marine Debris Program is to investigate and prevent the adverse impacts of marine debris. The program includes regional marine debris efforts, research and outreach to local communities. The main webpage includes links to public information, scientific reports, funding opportunities and a blog about marine debris.

Note: The information about Sabina Westhagen was added after the initial publication.

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