Trawler Trash

Trawler Trash is an amazing mural measuring 3m x 3m commissioned by the University of Exeter (Falmouth campus).

The piece started when we were invited to work with a group of 100 Cornish secondary school students on the University’s Environment and Sustainability Day in April 2014.

The students started to attach carefully categorised marine waste to the base, which was later completed by artist and designer Liz Franklin. It now hangs in the main atrium of the University’s Environment and Sustainability Institute.

Liz said: “The impact of plastic on marine life is huge and we’re only starting to wake up to how serious it really is. The idea of this mural is quite apocalyptic – imagining a time in the future when fishermen may catch only plastic instead of fish. The large eye of the mackerel, which can also be viewed as a ticking clock, further conveys the feeling of a 'countdown'.”

Trawler Trash is not intended to specifically label the fishing industry as a primary source of marine plastic pollution. Instead, the play on ‘trailer trash’ conveys the idea of the insidious throwaway culture that is responsible for so much of the vast and growing marine waste problem. 

Waste used in the mural includes net, rope, spacer stakes from mussel farms, glowsticks used in longline fisheries, fragments of broken fishing crates, cable ties, shotgun cartridge cases, toothbrushes and cigarette lighters.

If fish consume large amounts of plastic it can kill them by blocking their guts. Plastic fragments also act as ‘sponges’ in the sea, adhering toxic compounds present in seawater, many of which were banned decades ago, such as DDT and PCBs. Research is ongoing to understand how these leach into the fishes’ tissues, affecting creatures higher up the food chain. 

Today, many fishermen view their role as responsible stewards of the sea, doing their best to help protect the marine environment and their own industry. The Fishing for Litter scheme, which has operated since 2009 in some Cornish ports, has allowed South West fishermen to bring well over 50 tonnes of marine litter, trawled up in the nets, back to port for safe disposal.

Trawler Trash has since been kindly loaned out by the University of Exeter for use in other venues, and is being displayed on a semi-permanent basis at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth.



"The large eye of the mackerel, which can be viewed as a ticking clock, conveys the feeling of a 'countdown'."