Program People News

Plastics and Art – No Throwaway Messages Here

In the airy atrium of the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison for several weekends in late 2019, dozens of people participated in the museum’s three outreach events coupled with their exhibition Plastic Entanglements: Ecology, Aesthetics, Materials.

For Sea Grant’s Anne Moser, the events—known as Art Spins—were a chance to marry two of her favorite themes of art and science, including the science of plastics.

“Similar to the way the exhibition had been organized around the past, the present and the future of plastic as a material, so is the science of plastic pollution in our waters,” she said.

Moser is the senior special librarian for the Wisconsin Water Library, and she leads Sea Grant’s education efforts with colleague Ginny Carlton. The education offered at the Art Spins focused on topics such as “mosaic,” which explored the chemistry of plastics. The pair collaborated with the Wisconsin Energy Institute on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to create stations that explored plastic as a material in the past, present and a speculative future.   

On prior weekends, Art Spin participants explored plastic in fashion by examining microfibers under microscopes and plastic as a waste in waters by playing a game centered on marine debris collection.

Moser and Carlton also felt it was important to prompt action to reduce plastic pollution. They demonstrated shopping alternatives to single-use plastics and offered blank canvas bags along with plenty of fabric markers so creativity could foster the practice of using reusable bags when shopping.

“People are hearing about plastics. They’re worried about their plastic footprint,” Moser said. “People want to understand what the issues are and what alternatives they can choose. The art exhibit and the outreach events gave people inspiration to make some differences in their lives.”



Survey of Wisconsin boaters gauges the success of boater-education efforts about invasive species

Boating is a way of life for many Wisconsinites. Our state boasts more than 2,000 lakes with public access, and 624,882 boats are registered here.

Of course, the best way to enjoy fun, fishing and friends is to do so in a way that minimizes the potential spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS), unwanted invaders that can take a toll on native species, water quality and more.

Said Tim Campbell, an AIS outreach specialist with Wisconsin Sea Grant and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension, “Once invasive species are here, recreational boaters are the primary way they move around the landscape.”

This is where well-designed boater education campaigns come in. They inform boaters about legal requirements and good habits to adopt to make sure that good times on the water do not end up harming local ecosystems. Methods include signage at boat landings, in-person efforts by boat inspectors and advertising campaigns.

Wisconsin’s leading AIS prevention effort is the “Clean Boats, Clean Waters” initiative led by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Extension, which includes a Great Lakes watercraft inspection program and an evaluation of outreach efforts.

According to a recent survey administered by the Natural Resources Institute Evaluation Service Unit within Extension, these education efforts are quite effective.

Said Evaluation Specialist Evelyn Hammond, 1,498 surveys were mailed in 2018 to a random sample of registered boat owners in Wisconsin, and 532 completed surveys were returned. A response rate of 36% is very good, said Hammond, especially for a detailed survey with 35 questions.

A formal report on the survey will be available on the Wisconsin Sea Grant website within the next few months. In the meantime, said Campbell and Hammond, the results are encouraging in terms of boaters’ understanding of Wisconsin laws and their commitment to take preventive measures each time they take their boats out on Wisconsin waterbodies.

“The results confirm that what we’re doing is on the right track for increasing boater compliance [with AIS-related laws],” said Campbell. “For the most part, people are ‘usually’ or ‘always’ taking action to prevent the spread of AIS; few people fall into the ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ category.”

He stressed that the survey is not new, but rather the latest in a series of similar evaluation efforts — conducted via mail or phone — stretching back about a decade. Wisconsin AIS professionals now have about 10 years’ worth of data that track boater behaviors, awareness of laws, and the like.

Said Hammond, “People know that aquatic invasive species are a threat and have negative effects. They are aware of the impacts that AIS have on the lakes and on the environment in general.”

The current survey instrument was designed by Bret Shaw, an associate professor of life sciences communication at UW-Madison who is also an environmental communication specialist with Extension, in coordination with DNR and Extension AIS partners.

While the picture in Wisconsin is overall a positive one — there has been no significant spread of AIS in Wisconsin waters in the last several years — study administrators found that there is still some confusion surrounding the legality of a few specific practices, such as the handling of bait. This information lets AIS professionals know where they should fine-tune their communication efforts. For questions about the boater survey, contact Tim Campbell at


The Aquatic Sciences Center is the administrative home of the
University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute & University of Wisconsin Water Resources Institute.

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