The sculpture made by British artist Silas Birtwistle was built with plastic trash for CoP-11

A table made out of driftwood for Nagoya, and a fish sculpture built with plastic trash for Hyderabad -- that is the awareness-raising contribution of Silas Birtwistle, a British artist, to two international conferences of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The 3 metre-long, 1.5 metre-tall fish greeting participants at the entrance to the Hyderabad CBD conference venue is a colourful mosaic of plastic waste, sporting remnants of many commercial brands. It is a symbol of the heavy impact of land-based activity on the seas, and highlights the plight of the coastal communities whose youth have collected the trash and sent it on to the artist.

Some waste from city

This piece of garbage art became possible through the involvement of about 35 young people who collected the plastic and posted it in boxes it to Silas, and his brother Adam, also an artist and collaborator. Some of the waste that helped make the fish is from Hyderabad, the venue of the XI Conference of the Parties to the CBD.

“The plastic waste that washed up on shores has come from many places, including the Philippines, Tasmania, Belize, Costa Rica and Canada,” Silas told the media on Friday at a CoP-related event. The youth who sent it to him would get their first real look at the end result only when they arrive at the venue next week.

They will carry messages for the decision-makers gathering here.

Several participants who collected the trash are fishermen. They work with their communities to stop overfishing and to encourage wider global understanding of the problems facing coastlines and seas. Silas was commissioned to produce the 'sculpture' by Go4BioDiv, an international youth forum that has adopted the theme of conservation of coastal and marine biodiversity to sustain lives and livelihoods, during 2012. Among the youth delegates brought together by the forum are those from marine world heritage sites.

For the previous CoP at Nagoya in Japan, Silas put together a conference table made out of driftwood and 12 chairs and the set was used at the conference. Later, it travelled to other venues and meetings.

The wood was collected from the coasts of East Africa, Borneo, Honduras and Canada. That project is now an exhibit on the web, at http://atablefromtheseasedge.com/

“Oceans look the same today, as they did hundreds of years ago, but many people are not able to appreciate the changes such as acidification. Doing things like this is to communicate, use another language to help everyone understand,” says Silas. The fish he has 'sculpted' is quite durable and would work like a weather vane, turning when the wind blows. The final display spot of his unusual art work is as yet unclear. “It may go to the Worldwide Fund for Nature or Wildlife Institute of India,” he says.

Threat to seas ‘unprecedented’

Silas was asked at the World Economic Forum in Davos, whether he felt responsible for the environment as an artist. “No,” he told the surprised audience, “you are responsible.”

The CBD describes the threat to the world's seas from human activity as 'unprecedented'. Fishing, transportation, waste disposal, agricultural nutrient run-off, and introduction of exotic species are visible threats, while higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere get absorbed by the oceans, altering their chemistry and affecting marine life.

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the decade from 2011 to 2020 the 'Decade on Biodiversity.'