Turning beach litter into art: Photographer displays work at Port Angeles coffeehouse (***GALLERY***)

PORT ANGELES — Shotgun shells. A Santa Claus hat. Boatloads of bottles and caps, and too many unmentionables.

Rob Casey, an avid traveler of Olympic Peninsula waterways, turned such things into provocative art.

Kayaking and stand-up paddling around the Elwha River mouth last year, he started picking up trash.

That led to more and more beachcombing and litter-scooping, until Casey was filling the hollow part of his sea kayak with hunks of Styrofoam and other garbage.

Besides being a lover of the ocean and the streams that flow into it, he is a busy commercial photographer in Seattle.

Starts blog

Fascinated by the Elwha River and the forthcoming dam removal — the $351 million project to start next year — Casey embarked on his own Elwha River Project blog.

On it, he posted stunning scenes of the big water, the beaches around the river mouth and the cobalt-blue sky over the royal-blue Strait of Juan de Fuca.

And then there are his still lifes of beach litter in message-bearing arrangements.

They’re on display now through January at the Blackbird Coffeehouse at the corner of Eighth and Peabody streets in Port Angeles.

Casey and his girlfriend, Christy Cox — an avowed Seattle “coffee snob” — discovered the good joe there, he said.

So Casey asked owners Adam and Christy Parent for some wall space and put up a selection of framed photos.

The small show “proves a point about how much garbage is out there,” said Blackbird barista Sheila Miller. “It’s not pretty.”

Friends had told Casey that there’s a “beach garbage problem” in these parts. And yes, he’s seen that, as he’s combed and paddled.

Litter from Asia

But the problem is bigger than just these beaches, Casey emphasized. He’s found washed-up trash from Canada; the whole West Coast, he added, is known for litter from Asia.

This debris is distasteful evidence, he said, of how the world’s waterways are faring.

Ocean currents carry junk far and wide in an illustration of the adage “what goes around comes around.”

Casey’s family has a cabin on Place Road west of Port Angeles facing the strait; he’s been coming out to recreate on the Peninsula since he was a little boy.

Although he lives in Seattle, he makes frequent trips to Port Angeles for kayaking and stand-up paddling forays on the river and sea.

And yes, he still takes all manner of garbage out of the water.

“The other day, a group of us paddled from Freshwater Bay to Salt Creek and filled our empty hulls full of foam,” as in Styrofoam pieces floating on the waves, he said.

“We have all this cargo space . . . so we hauled it back home.”

Organized beach-cleanup efforts cover the Olympic coast, thanks to Beach Watchers (www.BeachWatchers.WSU.edu) and the spring cleanup days held by Washington CoastSavers (www.CoastSavers.org).

“Something I tell people all the time is that the Coastal Cleanup [Day] is great,” Casey said, “but you can always pick up stuff” just about any day of the year.

In addition to his photography and his frequent trips to the Peninsula, Casey is working on Stand-Up Paddling Flat Water, Surf and Rivers, a book to be published in the spring.

He’s also a kayak and stand-up paddling instructor — who this fall donated lessons to the North Olympic Land Trust’s StreamFest auction — with information available at www.salmonbaypaddle.com.

To see more of his photos of the Elwha and environs, visit www.elwhaproject.blogspot.com.

________

Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at [email protected]

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