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Open Access Publications from the University of California

T-shirts and Turtles: Art and Environmental Activism on Erub, Torres Strait


North Australia is one of the last remaining safe havens for endangered marine species. For Erub Islanders, sea turtles are both a traditional source of food and an integral part of their belief systems and culture. Between 2005 and 2015, up to ten thousand sea turtles across the globe have been entangled in “ghost-nets,” fishing nets that have been lost, abandoned, or discarded in the ocean. These nets trap marine wildlife invisibly and silently, hence the term “ghost.” Sea turtles are especially vulnerable to entanglement in ghost-nets. Erub Islanders began to gather the nets that washed up on the beaches and were caught in the reefs, often with dead animals ensnared in the webbing. They took the nets apart to see whether they could be used for crafts. They used the multi-coloured strands that run through the centre of the ropes to weave figures of small animals and full-scale figures of sea turtles and other large creatures of the Pacific. Today, ghost-net sculptures are part of a worldwide movement: the artists of Erub work with local and international museums to express their environmental activism by creating powerful art installations that bring awareness to the global destruction of our oceans.

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