Provincetown shark statue made of ocean junk and beach trash.


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May 27, 2023

Provincetown shark statue made of ocean junk and beach trash.

PROVINCETOWN — Standing in front of a life-sized sculpture of a juvenile

PROVINCETOWN — Standing in front of a life-sized sculpture of a juvenile Atlantic white shark that appears to be swimming against the weathered gray backdrop of the Herring Cove bathhouse, artist Cindy Pease Roe on Thursday morning faced a crowd of Cape Codders gathered to view her work: a piece crafted from washed-ashore trash.

"I used to be the crazy lady picking up trash on the beach," she began, then with a wry grin finished, "Now look at me!"

The comment drew a round of chuckles from the onlookers, and nearby a seabird squawked as if joining in the mirth.

The occasion, attended by elected officials, scientists, artists, beachcombers, school children and others, was the official unveiling of Roe's 14-foot sculpture — the first of a series of marine debris sculptures the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program plan to commission for display at Massachusetts beaches.

It's all to raise awareness about plastics and other human-made marine debris floating around the ocean and washing up on the shore. And in the case of Roe's sculpture, it also serves to raise awareness about and demystify white sharks.

Roe was selected to undertake the artwork by the Cape Cod National Seashore and Provincetown's Center for Coastal Studies through a competition. Getting chosen, she said, was "like winning an Oscar."

Her shark, affectionately named "Mama Shug" in honor of a southern friend and supporter who passed away while she was working on it, is made entirely of plastic marine debris, apart from the metal supports and armature. Most of the debris was collected along the Seashore by the Center for Coastal Studies' volunteer Beach Brigade, with a few small bits from Roe's own beach pickings.

"It's like a treasure hunt when you look. I tend to make things very colorful, so it's engaging and it captivates you," Roe said. "And then, when you see what you're looking at, it is a call for action."

Among the materials used to make Mama Shug are many pieces of single-use plastic, Roe said: water and energy drink bottles, milk jugs, liquor bottles, shampoo and lotion bottles.

There are also stirrers, pens, markers, pencils, and plastic eating utensils, pieces of fishing gear such as rope, fish boxes, lobster gear, bait bags, deck matting and netting; and construction materials such as insulation, piping, siding, fencing and sandbags. Then there are the golf balls, a tennis ball and a football, a Nike sneaker, children's toys, pieces of beach chairs, strapping, a calculator cover, lighters, auto parts, swim goggles, a tarp, tenting, an insulated cooler, and miscellaneous plastic shards.

And the teeth?

"Everybody wants to know about the teeth," Roe said.

They are made from the pointed tips of cheap beach umbrellas that always seem to break off in the sand after a few uses.

The artist is no stranger to working with flotsam and jetsam. Her marine debris art has been featured in galleries and permanent installations around the world, and she's the founder of UpSculpt, a nonprofit charity that works to educate people and offer hands-on solutions surrounding marine debris, plastics, and its disposal.

She's also been an artist-in-residence aboard the oceanographic research sailing vessel American Promise, operated by the Rozalia Project, a Vermont-based organization that also focuses on marine debris pollution.

"The Rozalia Project is where I learned a lot about what was going on with plastic pollution," said Roe.

It all started about 15 years ago, she said, when she was walking along a Long Island beach and noticed pieces of plastic.

"I thought, 'Where is this coming from?' And I learned," she said. "I used to pick up seashells. Now I pick up plastic."

Growing up, Roe, who lives in Connecticut, spent summers with her family on Cape Cod. Her grandparents, who served as missionaries in China, were gifted an old sea captain's house in West Dennis in 1941 by the Christian fellowship with which they were associated. In time it was handed down. Over the decades, family members would undertake various home improvement projects, and took pride in employing Yankee thrift to get the job done, she said. They lived by the same principles.

"We saved everything," Roe said. "That's where it was ingrained in me to reuse everything and not to waste anything."

While walking beaches, she's found myriad items, including three bottles with messages inside and even a GPS monitoring anklet someone who was under house arrest had managed to remove. But what's been most unexpected, Roe said, was not any one piece she found.

"I used to just pick up the plastic along the shoreline, but one day as I was picking it up I thought 'Oh, look at that! I can make this out of it,'" she said. "The most unexpected thing is that it became something of value."

When she saw that the Seashore was looking for an artist to create a marine debris sculpture on Cape Cod, she put together a proposal.

"I poured my heart and soul into it, hoping that I would get it, to honor my grandparents and my family, and to really honor what Cape Cod has given us," Roe said.

She built Mama Shug at the Bantam Arts Factory in Bantam, Connecticut, forming the shark around a metal frame made in Greenport, New York. She got some assistance with shaping the sculpture, and preparing it to stand up to an outdoor, marine setting, from one of her brothers, Brad Pease, who attended Thursday's unveiling. His contributions were helpful, she said because her brothers for many years operated Pease Boat Works in Chatham, where they built wooden boats — the perfect skillset to apply to crafting a durable, large-scale plastic sculpture.

"I was lucky enough to join her on this project," said Pease, who's now retired and lives in Portugal.

He said Mama Shug's curving body is shaped in much the same way as a boat, and he helped make patterns and build panels, "which is something we do in boat building." He also applied his skills using marine epoxies and a coating to reflect ultraviolet rays, to reinforce the construction and keep its colors vibrant.

"His work enabled this sculpture to be put outside," said Roe. Since plastics easily degrade in the sun and salt air, it was an important step, she said, "because the last thing we want is plastic marine debris blowing back into the ocean."

At Thursday's unveiling, state Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, said it's inspiring to see how science and art can come together "to teach so many about so much."

"We can learn what our responsibility has to be relative to plastic," she said.

Seashore Superintendent Brian Carlstrom agreed, calling the sculpture "a phenomenal piece of artwork" that serves as a reminder "to get out there and do your part."

To learn more about marine debris on the Seashore, visit:

Heather McCarron writes about climate change, environment, energy, science and the natural world. Reach her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @HMcCarron_CCT

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