A new artwork drawing attention to the issue of plastic being dumped into the oceans will be unveiled at the National Museum of Scotland next month.

The installation, titled Bottled Ocean 2123, is made entirely from recycled plastic and depicts an under-sea landscape.

The work, created by the artist George Nuku with the assistance of around 400 people including museum visitors, staff and volunteers from youth and community groups across Edinburgh, will be unveiled to the public next month in the exhibition, Rising Tide: Art and Environment in Oceania, which will run from August 12 until April 14 next year.

The artwork will address humanity’s unsustainable relationship with plastic, highlighting its impact on the natural environment and asking audiences to rethink their relationship with it.  

Artist George Nuku said: “Plastic is a fascinating material. We think of it as new, with all the things we use it for.

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"But, in fact, when you think about how it is made, from material created during the Earth’s ancient processes, that simple plastic bottle is in a way one of the oldest things around.

"And if you think about it that way, like an ancestor, then maybe you can start to think about treating it with respect instead of throwing it in the ocean.

"With the help of hundreds of local people, we’ve taken a pile of trash and made something beautiful.” 

A number of groups helped in the creation of the project, including the Welcoming, an Edinburgh based charity supporting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, as well as students from Edinburgh College of Art and children from Granton Youth, and Pilton Youth and Children's Project.

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The exhibition will focus on climate change and its impacts around the world, with the issue perhaps most keenly felt in Australia and the Pacific Islands where sea levels are rising due to climate change and the oceans are filling with plastic.

A 2022 WWF report found almost every species group in the ocean has encountered plastic pollution, with scientists observing negative effects in almost 90% of assessed species.

It said even if all plastic pollution inputs stopped today, marine microplastic levels would still more than double by 2050 – and some scenarios project a 50-fold increase by 2100.

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Estimates vary widely, but it’s thought that between 86-150 million metric tonnes (MMT) of plastic have accumulated in the oceans.

In 2015, half of all plastic waste was from packaging alone; while according to a 2018 estimate, single-use plastics account for 60-95% of global marine plastic pollution.

It's estimated that Europe alone releases 307-925 million litter items into the ocean annually, of which 82% are plastic.

As well as work by indiginous people and pacific islanders, Rising Tide will host the first display in Europe of a set of five kimono which make up an artwork entitled Song of Samoa, by internationally renowned artist Yuki Kihara, newly acquired by National Museums Scotland with the support of Art Fund.

Examples include work by master fisherman Anthony C Guerrero, who uses historic weaving techniques to make contemporary baskets from plastic construction strapping that is found littering Guam.   

Rising Tide also features historical material from National Museums Scotland's collections, such as spear points from the Kimberley region of Western Australia made by Aboriginal men from discarded glass bottles.

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A recurring theme throughout the exhibition, these spear points demonstrate that Indigenous peoples in Oceania have always innovated, using materials found in their environment to make cultural objects. 

Dr Ali Clark, Senior Curator Oceania and the Americas said: “We’ve really enjoyed and appreciated working with George Nuku on the installation of Bottled Ocean 2123, and with the many local people and volunteers who have helped with its installation through our community outreach work.

"It makes a fantastic, thought-provoking artwork for the exhibition and we look forward to people’s reactions when it opens next month.” 

The exhibition is supported by a programme of events including a series of morning curator tours in August which take place before the museum opens to the public.