Moby: Addressing Coastal Litter on Nantucket Through Functional Art

Sponsor: Nantucket Department of Public Works (DPW)
Marine Mammal Alliance of Nantucket (MMAN)
Sponsor Liaison: Graeme Durovich & Robert McNeil (DPW)
Scott Leonard (MMAN)
Student Team: Leonardo Go, Cameron LeBlanc, Evan Ryan, Joseph Henry Stadolnik IV
Abstract: Artists around the world have created captivating sculptures to raise awareness of the growing problem of marine litter and pollution. In this vein, we collaborated with the Nantucket Department of Public Works and the Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket to design a functional public sculpture in the image of a sperm whale called Moby. This iconic sculpture will serve as an attractive receptacle for trash and recyclables and encourage people to collect and dispose of coastal litter found on the beach. The Moby project will spread awareness of the impact litter has on the marine environment and its wildlife through informational signage, local outreach, and the symbolic image of marine litter filling the body of a whale.




Executive Summary


Litter pollution in the world’s oceans is increasingly recognized as an urgent and growing problem. It poses a severe hazard to many kinds of marine wildlife, and potentially humans as well. The island of Nantucket, located off the coast of Massachusetts, faces a significant coastal litter problem. Naturalists and others on Nantucket regularly find seals, whales, and other wildlife suffering from damage caused by plastic entanglement or ingestion. It has become increasingly popular to combine art with activism in order to promote better environmental stewardship. The Nantucket Department of Public Works [DPW] is always looking for innovative and effective ways to better manage waste and recyclables on the island. In keeping with the island’s history, the DPW in cooperation with the Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket [MMAN] proposed the creation and installation of an iconic sculpture in the shape of a sperm whale called Moby.


The goal of this project was to assist the DPW and MMAN in developing a sculpture that will serve as a litter receptacle and as a means of raising public awareness about coastal litter.    We identified five main objectives to accomplish to achieve this goal:

  1. Selected an optimal site and position for the installation of the sculpture.
  2. Developed and evaluated conceptual designs for the sculpture.
  3. Developed an operational plan in cooperation with the DPW to service the receptacle.
  4. Created ancillary public education and outreach materials on plastic waste and coastal litter to present to Nantucket elementary school students.


We identified the parking lot for Surfside Beach as the optimal location for Moby due to its accessibility to the DPW, popularity and public visibility, and the amount of litter that accumulates there.

We developed a series of rough sketches of initial design concepts and consulted our sponsors to determine which ideas they preferred. We also consulted the creators of prior similar sculptures such as the untitled sculpture commonly known as Yoshi the Fish, Treadgold Fish, and the litter sculpture collection by Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, to identify key factors to consider when designing a sculpture, selecting building materials, and creating informational signage.

Building on the initial concepts, we developed more detailed drawings and design criteria in an iterative process that involved the team, our sponsors, and the sculptor. The final design concept, shown in Figure 1, features a steel mesh-covered head with static displays of coastal litter on the sides and internal removable barrels for collecting deposited litter, a wooden body enclosing eight receptacles for trash, recyclables and compostables, and a steel tail with a static display of litter inside and a fluke.  During the development of the design concepts, we learned that the Nantucket Regional Transit Authority was planning to install a bus shelter at Surfside Beach in memory of the late local surfer, David Ozias.  We were able to modify our design so that the flukes of the whale will serve as the shelter.


Figure 1. The final design of Moby

We also used an iterative process to design instructional signage informing people how to use Moby as a beach litter receptacle and informational signage explaining Moby, its pro-environmental message, its connection to Nantucket’s history, and actions people can take to reduce coastal litter and plastic pollution. The final design for the instructional signage is presented in Figure 2 and the final design for the informational signage is presented in Figure 3.


Figure 2. The final design of Moby’s instructional signage.

To address the project objective of public outreach and raising awareness, the team met with local Nantucket schools to encourage their students to get involved in the Moby project. We proposed ideas for potential student activities to teachers.  The Nantucket Intermediate School and Nantucket New School also allowed us to present to fifth grade students about marine litter, our project, and how students can get involved in keeping the ocean clean. Additionally, we arranged to have our project featured at the and marine wildlife and environmental sustainability-themed New Year’s Eve Gala Under the Sea Dinner & Dance Party hosted by the Nantucket Hotel and Resort. This will serve as an opportunity to gain exposure, raise awareness, and obtain donations for the project.


Figure 3. The final design of Moby’s informational signage


From our findings the team concluded that there is substantial support on the island for a functional coastal litter sculpture that uses an iconic image from Nantucket’s past, the mighty sperm whale, to raise awareness about coastal litter, recycling, waste management, and how it affects the ocean’s wildlife.  Public art pieces, particularly those that serve other purposes aside from aesthetics and symbolism, can be used as an effective medium to promote public awareness, but the messages need to be reinforced through multiple channels, such as school programs, social media, and informational advertisements and posters.  We determined that Moby, along with any future beach sculptures that may be created, must balance eye catching imagery with practical considerations, such as usability, ease of access for the DPW staff, materials that minimize costs and maximize durability in a coastal environment, and effectiveness of the sculptures’ placement.

While encouraging responsible recycling is laudable, the ultimate goal is to  fundamentally shift public perceptions and dramatically minimize the use of plastics in the first place as a way to protect the health of the ocean and its wildlife. The concept of “slow violence”, or the damage committed by mankind on the environment in ways that are usually gradual and often unseen, has been a recurring theme in this project. Drawing attention and advocating for a voiceless entity, has been a major topic throughout this project. By creating a sculpture of a sperm whale filled with coastal litter, the project can raise awareness of this act of slow violence in a way that ties into local history and creates a deeper connection with the people who interact with it. Based on these conclusions, we recommend:

  • The DPW, MMAN, sculptor, Ozone Surf Classic Fund, and others continue to collaborate in order to complete the construct of the sculpture.
  • The DPW continue to collaborate with the MMAN, the sculptor, the Ozone Surf Classic Fund, and others to develop a public outreach/marketing plan for the installation of Moby in spring/summer 2020.
  • The DPW and MMAN monitor and maintain the Moby social media to determine its popularity and adjust messaging as needed.
  • The DPW and MMAN work together with the schools to further develop the educational materials prepared by the team.
  • The DPW monitor the coastal litter collected in Moby to better characterize that stream and adjust signage and informational materials as necessary.
  • The DPW and MMAN consider further additions or adaptations to Moby, as well as the installation of additional sculptures on other beaches on Nantucket based on the Moby’s success.