The negative effects of marine debris on sea turtles have been well documented all over the world. One approach to solving the marine debris problem is through public education. Beach cleanups increase public awareness of the magnitude and impacts of marine debris. This program incorporates the creative use of trash and other common materials to develop a symbol for delivering the conservation message – a Trash Talking Turtle.
Working with local children, the Aquarium's Stranding Response Program has inspired a growing campaign to increase public awareness by incorporating trash items collected during cleanups, specifically balloons, into sea turtle sculptures created by children. These "trash turtle" sculptures have been displayed in coastal areas throughout the state along with educational information on the hazards posed by marine debris. The expected outcome of this program is twofold: it provides a visual way to increase awareness of the hazards posed by balloons and other marine debris to wildlife and it gives children a creative way to learn about the marine debris problem and a feeling of ownership in solving it.
Trash Talking Turtles not only educates hundreds of people about the dangers of marine debris, but the turtles can also influence further action by other individuals and groups. State parks, national wildlife refuges, schools, and businesses in Virginia display Trash Talking Turtles, but the turtles, and their message, are migrating to other parts of the country and the world.